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

Who has better Business Continuity than Belgocontrol?

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Data Center LCL

A lot of sarcasm on social media and in the press yesterday and today, about Belgocontrol’s failing power backup. Next to the economic damage, there’s the reputation damage. A lot of companies are no better though. When confronted with a power cut, whether as a test or a real one, most companies will bear unexpected consequences. And what is more: a lot of IT Managers are quite aware of that. I bet many IT Managers haven’t slept well last night…

It’s true that redundancy of all your critical systems and assets in general, such as Belgocontrol’s control tower, requires an investment. Some IT Managers tell us their CFO or CEO won’t give them the budgets to do what is really needed. Let’s hope yesterday’s adventures have learned these CXO’s what’s really at stake.

As a CEO, if you really want to be sure that your business continuity is satisfactory, you need to make sure a full test is done. Many don’t dare test as it should be done, so they never know whether their precautions are quite enough. For your IT it’s somewhat easier: you can go for the OPEX rather than the CAPEX model, and confide in LCL’s data centers to make sure your systems are protected and your business continuity really works… We do a real test at least every month, actually cutting the power entirely. We can safely say that we can honor the SLA of our Tier III certification. Last night, like (most) every night, I personally slept like a baby!

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

The Dutch blackout and our electricity dependance

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Data Center LCL

As we’ve all read, The Netherlands had a blackout a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t, in spite of all the noise that was made over the possibility of a blackout. That is: we didn’t have one yet. In the North of The Netherlands, including in large areas of Amsterdam, there was no electricity for about two hours. When it finally came through, it took the provider two extra hours to restore the electricity in all areas. Yesterday, we learned that Belgium imported four times as much electricity this winter as we did last year. Given that we weren’t exactly freezing this winter (and so had a moderate consumption), if we didn’t have a blackout, we were probably just lucky.

The effect in The Netherlands was considerable. A lot of companies, including the airport and Dutch railways, bore the consequences. Next to 1 million families. And plenty of shops, where the security systems weren’t working. Traffic lights were failing, which created chaos. Police stations were inaccessible as their failing electric locks kept their doors shot. And the websites of several media, among which the national news service NOS, were down and unable to inform the public of what was going on.

We searched the internet for reports of the damage done to companies’ ICT systems, but these remain a well kept secret. Who will admit to the loss of data and/or systems for underestimating the consequences or because of a lack of precautions (such as contracting a data center)? As to the cause of the breakdown: provider Tennet did take its precautions: all high-tension cables are redundant. But then Murphy is never far away: there was a failure when both loops were connected because of works. So in spite of redundancy, there was still a breakdown. Where will Murphy be in our country when the electricity fails? There will be unexpected problems, such as failing internet lines. In The Netherlands, UPC’s cable network was dead. People also reported that the Vodafone mobile network was out as well as the KPN landlines.

Which is more frightening? That such a large area depends on one station, or that even redundant systems are so vulnerable… When we get an RFP requiring multiple data centers, sometimes they only need to be 5 km apart. How ridiculous is that? Like, you won’t have utilities in one area, and you will at a distance of only 5 km? They should be at least 25 km apart as the crow flies. Taking precautions is not enough. One should test them elaborately and frequently, by cutting the electricity off on a regular basis. We cut it off 36 times a year, just to make sure. There will still be unexpected problems, but at least you will have foreseen the obvious ones, and with some luck, you will be able to continue working… If you’d like some tips as to prepare for next year’s winter: there is a checklist some blogs further down.

Note that one can get a compensation in The Netherlands for damages following an electricity breakdown, but only if it lasts for more than 4 hours, which is an eternity if you don’t have a professional backup… Good luck!

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

Today’s eclipse, solar panels and disaster recovery

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Data Center LCL

Today, if clouds don’t spoil it for us, we’ll get to see a solar eclipse. On a sunny day, an eclipse translates into 40% less electricity from solar panels. Given the shaky state of the electricity supply in Belgium, I do hope you have a backup server room or data center, just in case we should get the long feared electricity blackout after all.

Earlier this week, well before the eclipse, we experienced two power cuts in our data centers, shortly after one another: one in Aalst yesterday, and one at the beginning of the week in Diegem. We have ample backup systems, of course. Our clients never noticed there was a (short) blackout. When data center activities are not your core business however, you can never protect your data and assets in the same way a professional external data center can. So a power cut represents a threat.

Even if you do have a backup solution, a second data center, at a distance of, say, 5 km: how relax can you be about potential disasters such as a power cut? I would keep my mobile close by if I were you. If your server rooms/data centers are only 5 km apart, both are very likely to suffer from any power cut that occurs on the grid. Even if you have the right backup facilities in both your data centers, your staff will have to be in both places at the same time to monitor. A double power cut represents an extra risk, there’s no doubt about that. In practice, your data centers need to be at least 20 km apart to avoid any unnecessary extra risk.

In short: a lot of companies are not as safe as they think they are. A condition for growth is that you can focus on your core business. And that your backend is no source of worry…

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

Ethernet leased lines shortly available throughout Belgium at better conditions via your favourite operator!

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Data Center LCL Belgium

The company formerly known as Belgacom, nowadays branded Proximus, is about to lose one of its remaining monopolies. The Ethernet leased lines on its network will shortly be on offer throughout Belgium from its competitors as well. Belgacom will have to offer competing operators considerably better wholesale service terms and reduced wholesale prices, enabling competitors to become (more effective) rivals of its Proximus Explore offering. Indications are that wholesale prices for certain network elements could decline by more than 50%. Alternative operators will also be able to pass on benefits (e.g. better territorial coverage especially outside cities and business parks, speed increases, perhaps price reductions) to their end-users in general and their wholesale customers in specific. Not that the prices are very transparent. It takes a fanatic and a couple of days’ time to get an idea of what the pile of e-paper produced on the matter by the BIPT, still at the draft stage, will mean in practice.

The thing is though, that it is now a matter of weeks before more companies will be able to afford Belgium-wide coverage for Ethernet leased lines, which can be used for site-to-site connectivity, data center connections, backup solutions, internet access, etc. The one-off connection cost per site will go down, as well as the premium charged for speedier connections. The general expectation seems to be that the prices for end-users would not go down that much, but that (much) faster connections will be offered for the same price, and that locations at which companies cannot afford Ethernet leased lines today, will be served cost-effectively.

This is good news for Belgian companies as well as for data center companies such as LCL, even if it’s a crying shame that it had to take 20 years before this market is now finally being liberalised. If more companies will be able to afford Ethernet services, more sites will be able to connect to quality external data centers such as LCL’s. We’re quite ready to receive all those companies that will now finally be able to work with us! We have been seeing a boost in demand over the last six months as it is. Companies are not only interested in shifting their data center cost model from capex to opex. The secure environment that LCL data centers offer, as well as the connection to some 30 operators, surely contributes to higher demand.

In terms of timing, the European Commission has until the second half of March to react on the BIPT’s notification. The BIPT has given itself until May 1st to adopt a final decision, which will reflect any comments the Commission might have. So operators all around: brace yourself! You’re finally in luck…

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers