Most events in the technology industry are organized around the release of a new product, the opening of a new corporate location, or serve to showcase a company and its services. The Datacenter Dynamics (DCD) conference, held at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel on November 6, was assembled for none of these reasons. In stark contrast to most of these gatherings, and in keeping with the event’s overall theme of ‘the disparate finding commonality’, the day-long conference was comprised of a series of collaborative sessions in which presenters, contributors and delegates participated.
Attendees had a diverse profile, including: CIO’s, IT VPs and other high-level executives involved in IT services provision, representing mostly medium and large end-user organizations; datacenter owners and operators; managed and other services providers; real estate representatives; builders, engineers and other construction-related individuals (heating/cooling/power); as well as various vendors of IT and associated products and services, who had their wares on display in an adjunct ballroom. The audience represented just about anyone who was in some way connected to the design, creation, development, procurement or sale of today’s data centre, in Canada and specifically in the Greater Toronto Area.
The opening ‘collaborative roundtable’, introduced by conference organizer and Datacenter Dynamics EVP North America, Bruce Taylor, and summarized by conference chair and InsightaaS principal analyst Michael O’Neil, was an atypical and unique way to engage all attendees. Each table in the room was assigned a specific topic, and each individual was asked to join the group associated with their chosen subject area. In this way, the groups were comprised of individuals with a broad range of responsibilities but had a common focal point. The subject areas were:
- Datacenter Facility Investment
- Datacenter Power & Cooling Management
- Datacenter ICT Equipment
- Datacenter Service Delivery
- Business Impact of Datacenter Investment & Efficiencies Improvement
- User Adoption of IT Services and Capabilities
- Human Capital
Tasked with selecting and discussing three or four key issues related to their table’s topic, a representative from each group then presented its findings to the conference audience. While each table offered a unique perspective on its subject, the fact that contributors to each group had radically different areas of responsibility created a unique opportunity to share diverse points of view.
Whether discussing user adoption of IT services, business investments or various service delivery models, each representative emphasized the need for collaboration among stakeholders. A couple of excellent examples of table conclusions follow below.
The criteria for determining the right location for a data centre should encompass recognition that many diverse areas of the business must work hand-in-hand to guarantee a successful selection. Good decisions around the site location or the shift to an outsourced model entail participation and acceptance by the c-suite, line of business managers, finance and IT, who must review requirements such as compliance, security, risk management, finance and acceptable ROI, corporate governance and user consumption models. When a decision is made, the interested parties expands to include representatives from the municipality, construction and engineering, vendor relations and procurement.
It’s important to acknowledge that although driven by the needs of the businesses and with consideration for existing and/or new vendor relationships, it is the IT department that is charged with making the final determination on the many available choices. It is IT’s ultimate responsibility to work in conjunction with the relevant internal groups and to negotiate the right hardware/software solutions, and the service level and operational level agreements that meet the needs of the various interested corporate entities.
User adoption of services
As in any human endeavor, setting expectations around ‘change’ is paramount when considering the shift from on-premise data storage, to one of the many available off-premise options. . The desire to change is not nearly sufficient — many questions must be asked, such as:
- What data will actually migrate to the data centre? What are the criteria for inclusion/exclusion? The answers will be different if you’re a medium-sized construction company or a bank.
- What is the new standard for data storage? Is it an all or nothing situation or some kind of hybrid model where some data resides in a provider’s data centre and some on premise?
- What is the corporate appetite for risk? For example, how risky is transition to outsourcing for a given firm?
- Does the company wish to build its own data center, buy an existing facility or lease space off premises?
- How can transparency and confidence be ensured for the entire user community, throughout the transition process and beyond?
- What is the new business model? Have all interested parties agreed on the go-forward plan? Given the security breaches of the recent past, how is it possible to communicate a move to the ‘cloud’ effectively and efficiently to stakeholders, shareholders and customers without inciting panic?
- What is needed to inspire confidence in all customers with respect to quality of service, security, reliability and scalability?
- If the data centre is owned, how can ROI goals and requirements be determined? What are the trade-offs in the other areas of the business?
- What metrics will be in place throughout the entire transition — from making the decision to move the corporate data off-premises to getting the actual external datacenter up and running — to enable accurate assessment of the fiscal health and viability of the investments and the plan?
- What’s the ideal location? Where are most users and where is the customer base located?
- What is required to ensure accessibility and data security?
Ensuring user buy in is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Ultimately, all the ‘customers’ of the data centre must be willing to embrace technology change and the new service delivery reality.
Faced with many of the same challenges as the user adoption group, participants in the services delivery conversation agreed that the data centre must adhere to strict guidelines around supporting line of business needs. These ‘customers’ will no longer accept long timeframes for completion of IT projects as they have an increasingly ample supply of cloud-based service delivery alternatives available to them. IT departments of today have had to evolve from being a purveyor of services to a ‘brokerage’ of sorts — managing relationships with various third party services in addition to internal service delivery to ensure continuity from the data centre and back again.
Corporate end users are typically less concerned with how data is delivered or where it’s stored; rather, their issues are security, reliability, speed, general accessibility and visibility into performance metrics. Meeting (or exceeding) the needs of the business, maintaining appropriate service levels at an acceptable cost, and effectively managing the risks associated with any data migration are the keys to a successful change in data storage strategy.
Why the GTA?
Of particular interest to many of the attendees from Toronto and environs was a session in which Chris Drake, research director for DCD Intelligence, outlined why the GTA is such an attractive market for potential and existing data centre owners and operators. According to the most recent annual census of data centre operators conducted by DCD Intelligence, the global data centre industry represents an expanding business segment, having tripled in size since 2007. This trend has been reflected in the Toronto area through local growth in investments, in the availability of outsourced space and in power consumption. Increased need for secure, reliable data storage is being driven by unprecedented demand resulting from growth in GTA population, corporate locations and mobile accessibility, he added. Across Canada, this developing market is expected to see an annual increase of approximately 25% by year end 2014.
Speaking in the same session as Chris Drake was Jonathan Wheatle, a representative from York Region’s Economic Strategy Branch. In his presentation, Wheatle noted that firms such as IBM, SAP and CenturyLink Technology Services either have opened or plan to open new data centres this year, activity that attests to the confidence these service providers have in the ability of the GTA to support such costly endeavours. As the financial center of Canada, Toronto boasts access to investors, transportation routes, the availability of a wealth of network/connectivity/telecom services, as well as an increasing supply of highly skilled, technology professionals. Although many skilled IT workers may be tempted by competitive salaries offered by firms in the US, the benefits of living in Canada often outweigh the lure of the American dollar. And from a climate perspective, data centres operators apparently welcome the ‘free cooling’ that our winters provide.
Ultimately, Drake, Wheatle and most of the attendees to the conference expect that Toronto will remain an attractive environment for data centre builders, owners, operators and their customers. Armed with the key takeaways from the Datacenter Dynamics Toronto session — the importance of collaboration between necessary parties, including government, power suppliers, investors, corporations, engineers and construction companies — market participants are more likely to turn this expectation to reality.