The questions we wanted answered were ?what are the requirements of businesses today when it comes to allocating data centre space', ?are mega data centres still a reality' and ?is outsourcing the way forward'? Ultimately Sentrum was looking for a better understanding on the current business issues and requirements that will shape both the short term and long term futures of the data centre market. The research collated responses from senior IT professionals across a wide variety of industry sectors, in organisations with 250 or more employees, and clearly outlined growing trends within the industry.
In fact, almost half of the UK's large businesses hold at least some of their data centre space in external facilities.
A small number of respondents, just 5%, do look to third parties to manage all their data centre space requirements, but the median figure of those outsourcing ?some' requirements to third party specialist operators is closer to half (50%). This is an important point to note, as maybe the majority of companies should now consider such an option for their own data centre requirements, particularly in the wake of fluctuating markets.
For a while now, companies have been recognising the need to cope with the growing volume of data and the demands it places on IT systems and the space in which to store the infrastructure. Despite one popular consideration in the past being development of in-house mega data centres, the research findings showed that 56% of businesses today have no such intention of going down a route that demands a long term commitment in terms of investment and construction. Of the remainder, at best they considered that they ?might' investigate that option, but none of the IT managers questioned would then go as far to say that they have definite plans in place for such a project. Respondents cited the difficulty of forecasting the space requirements accurately, with over a quarter predicting that should their organisation adopt a mega data centre approach it would soon outgrow the space. Space is clearly at the forefront of thinking when it comes to the data centre and even when considering such large scale installations, very few recognised, or gave thought to the provision of sufficient power, the difficulties in locating a site or whether such a facility would be in conflict with their organisation's environmental policies.
So if mega data centres have become a victim of the credit crunch, what choices does this leave businesses which recognise that their growing data needs will bring severe space implications? What the market has now seen is a perception change from IT Managers when it comes to considering outsourcing some, or even all, of their data centre demands. Whether through better communication by third party providers, improved technologies, market forces or all of the above, the majority of IT managers (79%) do not think outsourcing their data centre space requirements relinquishes control of the data centre. Indeed, a fifth think it gives them increased control when planning policies to manage IT expansion, and this opinion is even more pronounced among organisations that have direct experience and/or already outsource (30%).
This is encouraging news for the outsourcing industry if nothing else. Though there are still misconceptions - especially in terms of the scale of the facilities available ? there are suppliers that offer data centre ?space-only' solutions regardless of size requirements, meaning there is choice in the market for businesses seeking to outsource. Close to half of the IT Managers interviewed are also still under the impression that suppliers are unlikely to provide a customised solution which meets a company's individual needs. This is simply not true.
Despite some confusion here, it is interesting to note the growing trend here in the UK for outsourced data centre solutions. Among those who currently outsource at least some of their data centre space requirements, 28% have done so for the first time within just the last year. Nearly half have taken this step within the last 2 years, suggesting this activity is on the increase and with predicted recession set to bite deeper we would expect more businesses to adopt this policy at an increasing rate. Of those who do not currently outsource any of their data centre space requirements, 35% have cited plans to do so in the future, and whilst timeframes for these new implementations vary from within 2 months to 3 years, we expect more to be instigated in the short term, with most looking to outsource at least some of their data centre space requirements within the next year.
So, if a business is to realistically consider housing some, or all, of its IT infrastructure externally how will this impact on the geographical spread of a company? On average, large organisations in the UK it appears would consider locating a data centre up to 97 miles away from any of the company's current premises. The median figure of 50 miles is perhaps more realistic, but what was interesting was the indication, certainly from large organisations, that they would consider locating a data centre further away from an existing premises if they were able to reduce power consumption for the data centre by between 25-30% per annum.
This is one of the few occasions where those we spoke to were most clearly driven in taking a decision on the data centre by an opportunity to reduce expense, though one could easily argue that this underpins the entire shift in popularity from mega data centres to a more flexible outsourced option. In this case the deciding factor was an overt saving. Most surprisingly for me was that in a time where business seem to be eager to demonstrate green credentials, environmental impact appears to have had less to do with the decision.
Of course there are other key factors to be considered when an organisation is tackling data centre expansion or consolidation plans. These include the number of available sites, their location, timescales, proximity to fibre, availability of power and real estate market conditions. But in reality almost half of all large organisations in the UK (47%) consistently do not factor in any of these key issues when making decisions. The most commonly considered factors -number of sites available, location and timescales ? are at best considered by only a third of companies. Fewer still (16%) always factor in the availability of power or real estate market conditions. However, when choosing a third-party operator to assist in building, developing or relocating a data centre, experience (58%) and cost (57%) were rated more highly than speed - even in the current climate.
Initially, this may seem to flow straight back to the concern about outsourcers and the control of the data centre but in my opinion the priority for a knowledgeable business partner instead suggests that this is a sign post of the increased level of trust that business now place in third party outsourcing companies. Data centre operators want to achieve partnerships with their customers; they do not want to be simply a short term bridge while a business sees how the broader market plays out. Good, experienced outsource partners will now be actively investing in a range of new and varied facilities to provision scalable space and fully specified and supported infrastructures. Businesses that need to securely accommodate and access ever increasing amounts of data need to be giving solid consideration to the outsourcing route. The ?credit crunch' may be accelerating our thinking, but the market evolution to this method of working was already well on its way, and I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future.
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