Outsourcing data centre works wonders for Calgary firm

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Lower costs, reduced complexity, and increased convenience, were key drivers that led Matrix Solutions Inc. to outsource its data centre operations.

For the Calgary-based environmental and energy consultancy firm, increased activity in the energy sector meant more business, and that was wonderful.

However, in the company’s IT department it was a different story. There the consequences of increased energy use were not so great.

Power consumption to cool the server “went through the roof and people found it hard to work in the room because the machine made so much noise,” said Mike Morley, senior consultant, information engineering team, Matrix.

He said it was determined that a much larger blade-type server would be required to handle the additional workload. (A blade server architecture houses multiple server modules or “blades” in a single chassis. It is widely used to save space and improve systems management).

Matrix says its decision to outsource these operations instead of handling them inhouse – has brought several technology as well as business benefits.

On the technology front, outsourcing has enabled the company to meet its massive data transmission requirements without worrying about power and cooling requirements.

Until recently this wasn’t the case. Over the past two years, “power” and “heat” were huge concerns.

Matrix experienced rapid growth that expanded its client base to more than 500 companies and increased its staff count from 80 to 180. The firm initially used an IBM server with a 500-Gbyte capacity, but huge recent increases in data led it to upgrade to an IBM blade server array with three terabytes of storage.

While meeting increased data needs, the upgrade triggered a huge surge in power requirements.

While Matrix’s old server needed 500 volt amperes of power, the new blade units required 2,700 volt amperes, and produced around 18,000 British Thermal Unit (BTU) of heat.

“The power and heat density were enormous,” reminisced Morley. He said with the AC fans at full blast,” there was just too much noise in the room.”

“Saved costs” was the principle business benefit of outsourcing.

As the cost of real estate in Calgary has shot up recently, Morley said Matrix shelved earlier plans to build another data centre. “The cost of just putting up drywall for a new server room was $20,000.”

The option presented by outsourced data infrastructure provider Q9 Networks Inc. of Toronto, however, offered significant savings.

Under an agreement signed early this year, Matrix pays about $1 for every volt ampere its server consumes, plus additional charges for remote connectivity.

Morley estimates his company saved more than 40 per cent of the cost of building another facility by transferring their new server to Q9’s data warehouse some six blocks away from the Matrix office.

A dedicated fibre optic cable with the ability to push some 100 megabytes of data per second was laid underground to transmit data from the Matrix office to its server in the Q9 warehouse.

“With this set up Matrix doesn’t need to worry about providing adequate power and cooling for its equipment or building a secure environment to house its client information,” said Osama Arafat, Q9 CEO.

Arafat said Q9’s Calgary warehouse, which has the capacity to hold 500 server cabinets, is one of three facilities the company owns in Canada. A site in Toronto holds 830 cabinets, while another in Brampton, Ontario holds 3,200.

He said Q9 facilities are equipped with the necessary intrusion detection and prevention devices as well as fire protection systems.

The outsourced warehouse company offers three ways for clients to remotely connect to Q9 facilities: via the public Internet network, a virtual private network and a dedicated point-to-point connection.

At least one Canadian technology industry analyst says while data centre outsourcing is not big in this country, Canadian companies that do choose this service do so to improve reliability and service levels.

“Outsourcing in the storage area is pretty small,” according to Vasudave Daggupaty, senior analyst for the Toronto-based consultancy firm IDC Canada Ltd.

“Organizations in this business have to deliver [exceptional] service, and a low of computing capacity and power.”

Unlike Matrix Solutions though, most companies sign service agreements that include the use of the outsourcer’s equipment, according to Daggupaty. “This way the customer does not have to worry about server upgrades and services issues.”

He said businesses that value privacy issues and control over information might shun outsourced data centres. These organizations could include: government agencies, financial services, law enforcement, intelligence and military facilities.

A recent survey also indicated that clients are wary about having their personal data sent to offshore companies.

Daggupaty said companies look for certain capabilities when selecting a data outsourcing services provider. These include security and regulatory compliance, information life cycle management, data backup and virtualization capabilities.

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