Outsourcing data centre works wonders for Calgary

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 for the firm’s bottom line.

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

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.

Matrix determined that a much larger blade-type server would be required to handle the additional workload.

The company says its decision to outsource its data centre operation instead of handling it in-house has brought several technology, as well as business, benefits.

On the technology front, outsourcing has enabled Matrix 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 500GB capacity, but huge recent increases in data led the company 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.

Matrix’s old server needed 500 volt amperes of power, but 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 was enormous,” reminisced Morley. He said with the AC fans at full blast,” there was just too much noise in the room.”

While lower heat and power requirements were benefits of outsourcing, saving money was the principle benefit.

The cost of real estate in Calgary has skyrocketed recently and 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 100MBps was laid underground to transmit data from the Matrix office to its server in the Q9 warehouse.

“With this setup 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.

At least one Canadian technology industry analyst says while data centre outsourcing is not big in this country, Canadian companies that do choose to outsource 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 cost 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.

Daggupaty also says 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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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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