Let’s join forces for data center outsourcing

Over the past years, I have made attempts, with the Dutch Datacenter Association, to set up a Belgian Datacenter Association in one form or another, in order to promote the interests of data centers in our country.

This organization will put us on the international map owing to the unique position we hold in the heart of Europe, with London and Paris just 5 milliseconds away and Amsterdam even closer. You can probably relate to the idea.

Belgians not only have a brick in their stomach, they clearly also have a data center or server room in their stomach.

In terms of data center outsourcing, our country must be ranked like bottom of the list. People do not feel comfortable if their server is not in their basement, as it were.

 

When I hear CIOs talk about how their management views the potential outsourcing of their data center, I sometimes feel as if I am back in the Middle Ages.

But in those days there were fortresses, of course, and people did not need electricity. Today, the needs of businesses are somewhat more sophisticated, and internal data centers or server rooms are slightly more vulnerable than a fortress armory.

Given this, jointly promoting external data centers would be a very useful exercise.

Unfortunately, most Belgian data center businesses only pay lip service to collaboration. They limit themselves to their own daily challenges, rather than investing time in joining forces, let alone looking beyond national borders.

Of course, I am Dutch. I have seen genuine efforts in this area in the Netherlands, and they are bearing fruit. But in Belgium, LCL’s is a lone voice in the wilderness.

 

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

Data security doesn’t really seem to be a priority…

1-enquete-disaster-recoveryA survey of Belgian, quoted companies, commissioned by LCL, shows that only 3% of the targeted companies ever test their power backup systems by actually turning off the electricity. Meaning that they will only learn whether or not the power backup systems work when there is a power cut. That’s like buying skis and not trying them on before you actually hit the snow. Or going hiking with brand new boots, straight from your favourite online shop. The only guaranteed result is sore feet.

We’ve all read and heard what deficient power backup systems can lead to. Remember the power cut at Eurocontrol? The business world couldn’t believe the company shut down just like that, by lack of well functioning backup systems.

We knew that many companies are only theoretically prepared for the worst-case power scenarios. But we never expected it to be that many. 97% of the companies plug their power backup and pray; that’s like: as good as everybody. In France, they expect to have an electricity shortage of 5 GW next week. Knowing that we generally import electricity from France, next week could represent a live test for the companies concerned…

Another astonishing fact is that 53% of the surveyed companies doesn’t have a second data center. Meaning, that in case of any disaster, not just a power cut, they have a big problem. More over: only a minority of companies interviewed said they were planning to set up a second data center.

This shows that data security is not seen as essential within IT governance, not even with quoted companies. How many Board members are aware that data security is taken so lightly in their company? More and more, ICT is on the Board’s agenda, and rightly so. All we need to do now, is educate Board members so that they can evaluate the security systems in their company/ies, and make sure that they really are as safe as they should be.

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

Comatose servers: things will get worse before they get better

shutterstock_71528611Thirty percent of servers around the world are doing nothing at all. They are switched on, ready for service, and actively draw power and consume resources such as cooling, yet no-one would notice if someone decided to turn them off.
Articles are published on the energy use of data centers with clockwork regularity. It’s said that, at a global level, data centers consume as much energy as a large country such as the United Kingdom. Their carbon footprint is claimed to be roughly the same as that of the aviation industry. On a more positive note, there are signs that the energy consumption of data centers is stabilizing, although a great deal of work still needs to be done.

Forgotten servers
It goes without saying that one of the simplest ways to waste less energy is to turn off what are known as ‘zombie’ servers. You may wonder why this hasn’t happened yet. The main reason is probably that at most companies the electricity bill isn’t paid by the head of IT. In fact, the IT staff has no idea how high the bill is. This means they have no incentive to check which servers are actually being used.

Does the cloud create more zombies?
The fact that 30 percent of servers are comatose is old news. Consultancy firm Anthesis Group and Jonathan Koomey, a researcher at Stanford University, published a study on this subject in 2015 and a number of other past studies reached the same conclusion. I’m afraid that little improvement is expected in the next few years. Companies are moving more and more applications to the cloud, but this doesn’t always lead to a reduction in the number of servers at those companies. It will come as no surprise, then, that the number of servers is growing considerably worldwide. The number of comatose servers therefore tracks the rising popularity of the cloud.
This is somewhat ironic, as one would expect the cloud to bring about a more efficient use of server space. This will undoubtedly be the case in the long run, but we need to pull the plugs on the old servers first.
But the problem comes down to more than just the tendency of IT departments to expand their collection of servers. What about the ever-growing mountain of unused data stored by most companies? Most organizations have spent a great deal of time and money collecting this information and therefore hang onto it for dear life. Data doesn’t come with an expiration date, and so no-one actually gets rid of obsolete data. Instead, it fills up servers that in turn consume power and resources.

Data centers are part of the solution
One part of the solution would be for more companies to make the transition to a professional data center. It’s surprising that so many companies still run their own server rooms, which aren’t always managed with the same level of expertise as professional data centers. Even if we disregard the questionable security of their corporate data, companies that run their own server rooms also make very inefficient use of server space, cooling and the like.
Owing to the scale of professional data centers, we can invest more in efficient climate control, leading to lower energy consumption. LCL’s ISO 14001 certification is confirmation of our ongoing efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of our data centers. If all of the servers currently kept in in-house server rooms were moved to independent data centers, the global ecological footprint of the sector would be greatly reduced.

Moreover, the IT managers of LCL’s customers know full well how much electricity their servers consume each month. They can see this clearly and transparently in the invoices they receive, which are paid for out of the ICT budget. Customers of professional data centers know that it’s in their interests to seek out comatose servers and keep power consumption under control.
When it comes to excessive energy consumption, the finger of blame is often pointed at data centers. The facts, however, show that well managed data centers contribute to a more efficient and rational use of energy in the data storage sector.

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

Liggen onze overheden wakker van de veiligheid van hun data?

Brussel
Brussel
Het bankwezen in België heeft de boodschap begrepen. De Nationale Bank van België (NBB) heeft eind 2015 een circulaire rondgestuurd naar alle Belgische financiële instellingen met richtlijnen voor hun operationele bedrijfscontinuïteit en databeveiliging. Wie wil er nu niet dat zijn zuurverdiende centen veilig zijn? Banken hebben een kritieke rol in het financieel systeem en een groot maatschappelijk belang. Het spreekt dus voor zich dat zij voorzorgsmaatregelen nemen tegen operationele schade, verstoringen van het elektriciteitsnet of diefstal. De circulaire stelt dat een financiële instelling steeds moet beschikken over twee datacenters, minimaal Tier III, die niet binnen dezelfde stedelijke agglomeratie liggen en minimaal 15 km uit elkaar. Minder dan 15 km mag, maar dan mits voldoende onderbouwde risicoanalyse voor te leggen aan de NBB. Bijkomende voorzorgsmaatregelen en/of uitwijk- en hersteloplossingen worden voorzien op een afstand van tenminste 100 km. Minder dan 100 km mag, maar dan ook mits voldoende onderbouwde risicoanalyse.

Hoe zit het nu met de overheidsdata? De federale overheid gebruikt veelal 4 datacentra die centraal in Brussel zitten vlakbij de kleine ring en een datacenter in Anderlecht. De afstand tussen de gebouwen gaan van een paar kilometer tot de verste afstand van 5 à 6 km. Dit valt zeker niet onder de bovenbeschreven normen van de Nationale Bank.

Gooi een bom op Brussel en niet alleen alle belangrijke overheidsinstellingen zijn van de kaart geveegd, ook hun gevoelige data. De meeste overheden bevinden zich in het hart van onze hoofdstad, zowel met de eigen server rooms als de externe datacenters. Een blikseminslag of een langdurige verstoring van het elektriciteitsnetwerk is al voldoende om een overheidsinstelling lam te leggen, en daarbij alle kritische gegevens. Conclusie: de datacenters en back-up datacenters van onze overheden zijn niet opgewassen tegen een panne op hetzelfde stadsstroomnetwerk. Zij worden dus bij een stadsbrede stroompanne allebei getroffen. Brussel is bovendien een hoge risicozone. Dat wil zeggen dat de kans er op een natuurlijke ramp of een terroristische aanval veel groter is dan in pakweg Aalst of Antwerpen.

Kunnen onze overheden zich deze risico’s veroorloven? Zij beschikken over gevoelige data over u en ik, belastingaangiftes, onze sociale zekerheid, data over de financiële gezondheid van ons land, data over gesprekken tussen politieke partijen, naties. Kortom: informatie die altijd consulteerbaar moet zijn. Moeten deze data niet extra beschermd worden? Door ontdubbeling in een back-up datacenter buiten onze hoofdstad bijvoorbeeld?

De NBB geeft het goede voorbeeld.

Hoe komt het dat onze overheden ogenschijnlijk niet wakker liggen van interne of externe veiligheidsrisico’s? Vindt u ook niet dat de richtlijnen/regels voor betalingsinstellingen, verzekeraars en kredietverstrekkers ook zouden moeten gelden voor overheden? Binnen de overheid heerst een tendens die zegt dat zij zelf de datacenters moet beheren. Is het niet efficiënter om dit aan externen over te laten met goede SLA’s?

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

Cost comparison inhouse versus outsourced

A Engineer E 003 591
LCL Belgium

Is outsourcing the new norm in the land of data centers?

As the world becomes more and more global, organizations are constantly working to improve their performance while their budgets keep being cut. What should they invest in, and where should they make cuts, to ensure they can still grow? Following recent scandals involving the NSA, data security and privacy are now higher on the agenda than ever before. Should organizations invest in their own server rooms or data centers, or are they better off using an external data center?

Generally speaking, organizations that handle matters in-house have to contend with higher setup costs and make greater investments, but they expect to have lower operating costs in subsequent years. Given the ever-growing threats to security and privacy, organizations need to take every precaution to protect their data, and so there should be no economizing when it comes to data centers. But with money being tight, funding difficult to obtain, and the economy in poor shape, the setup costs present a challenge for many organizations. And that’s not all.

Our extensive research into the cost of in-house and external data centers and server rooms shows that for larger organizations the operating costs of an in-house data center are as high as those of an external data center. For smaller organizations, with only 7-8 racks, operating costs are somewhat lower if they have an in-house data center than if they have an external partner. Given that the investment they make lasts for about 10 years, this means there is a large question mark. It is also important to remember that, in addition to a quality server room or data center, there also needs to be a disaster fall-back solution, in other words a second server room or data center, in order to be really safe.

We presented our research to some larger companies, which confirmed the numbers. They felt the numbers might even have underestimated the true situation: the operating expenses of an in-house data center are probably higher than those associated with an external partner, rather than being comparable, given the lack of economies of scale. Moreover, one IT manager of a listed company admitted that in these difficult economic times he had trouble convincing his CEO of the need for certain investments in their in-house data center. He felt that data protection at their organization was not up to scratch. A quality external data center has data protection and privacy as its core business, and so I can imagine that outsourcing reduces stress levels for some IT managers, because they know for sure that their data is secure and will remain so, no matter what new threats appear on the horizon. Plus there is, as always, the issue of politics, when it comes to insourcing or outsourcing.

This is all food for thought. I wish all IT managers peaceful days and restful nights. Do you want to double-check our numbers for yourself? If so, contact me at laurens.van.reijen@lcl.be.

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

Ten reasons why you should consider outsourcing your datacenter

LCL Belgium
LCL Belgium

A data centre, even a small one, is a huge investment for any organisation. It would therefore be a logical choice for most companies to opt for an external data centre. And yet there are countless organisations that still prefer to keep their data and applications within their company walls.

Sometimes this is a deliberate and motivated choice, driven by realistic economic and/or strategic reality. But for many companies, the choice could have been different if they had taken into account all the relevant arguments.

That is why we have decided to draw up a list of obvious reasons to opt for an external data centre instead of investing in your own infrastructure, and to discuss some arguments that are often used against external data centres.

This list can be found in this white paper. It includes arguments such as ease of mind, turning capex into opex, staffing issues and flexibility. But believe me, it doesn’t stop there.

Just 10?

We have rounded off to ten arguments for simplicity’s sake, but we could have come up with even more arguments, when taking your specific economic reality into account. You can of course always contact us to investigate the entire business case.

On top of these ten arguments, we have also listed the most commonly heard counterarguments and explain why these arguments are not always a reason to exclude external data centres.

The conclusion? There are more reasons to opt for an external data centre than you think. And the reasons not to opt for outsourcing may prove less valid than you thought.

We are sure that this white paper will provide you with some arguments you hadn’t thought of before. If you wish to discuss this further with our team, you are welcome to contact us here.

Pros and cons of outsourcing your datacenter

The most recent Business Meets IT seminar earlier this month focused on datacenters, so naturally it caught our attention. Keynote speaker of the day was Luc Verbist, CIO of media concern De Persgroep. After a presentation of their own datacenters (2 fully redundant DC's with 4 cubes in total), he also shared his thoughts on internal versus external datacenters. Some of the arguments sound very familiar: if you need a 24x 7 operations, you will more likely outsource your datacenter. If you don't have enough critical mass, you will too. But the decision will also depend on other variables such as: the availability of skilled resources, building restrictions and regulations, and whether your company has an opex or capex strategy. There are many variables but more often than you's expect, you will be driven to the decision pro outsourcing.

DSC_4126

Other thoughts worth mentioning: "Experienced project and maintenance teams as valuable as the product itself" (Serge Bogaerts from Cenaero) and "In the year 2000 only Walmart had 200 terabyte worth of data, nowadays any average company with over 1.000 employees already has more than 200 terabyte of data." (William Visterin, Smart business) And this evolution will only accelerate, so data centers and their suppliers can rest assured: there are challenging times ahead. Not challenging as in 'will we have enough business?' but as in: 'how will we manage to keep on growing faster and faster?' A challenge that we gladly accept and that we're already tackling today.