Managing datacentres in a 'more for less' world

Computer Weekly recently hosted a CIO roundtable debate, in association with Oracle, to discuss the challenges of building and managing datacentres in an economic environment where CEOs are demanding more services for less money.

Computer Weekly recently hosted a CIO roundtable debate, in association with Oracle, to discuss the challenges of building and managing datacentres in an economic environment where CEOs are demanding more services for less money.

Questions faced by IT leaders include: How to manage fast-growing data volumes? How to ensure security? And what is the role of cloud computing in datacentre strategy?

Here we present the key topics from the debate and the issues and experiences of the IT managers around the table.

Data storage

The delegates agreed that managing data is an ongoing and evolving challenge.

John Strange, head of security and department security officer at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said, "No one would argue that data is not the absolute lifeblood of most organisations, but the problem the majority of organisations have today is the storage of e-mail data for evidential issues and regulatory issues."

Guy Miller, IT director and chief information security officer, Mace Group, said, "Twitter is still a storage issue."

Ted van der Kwast, director of datacentre operations at Nokia, asked, "How much real-time data are you trying to capture in storage?"

Chris Baker, European senior vice-president, core technology at Oracle, said e-mail could be a large or a trivial problem for companies and the requirements to capture data could vary enormously, to improve service or gain better insight.

"We have one customer who collects two billion customer records every day," said Baker. "There is a lot of information that organisations want to use to create a better customer experience. There was a massive growth in data collected during the financial crisis by companies that hoped it would help them make better decisions."

Baker said technology could help with the storage of such huge volumes. "There are compression technologies that can compress data up to 50 times," he said, "but whether the data is coming from email or Twitter, or elsewhere, the effect on the growth of traffic is massive and it is all being stored."

Richard Buckley, European datacentres programme manager at BP International, said the problem was not technical, and added, "We tackle storage, but not the storage growth and the problem is, we will reach bust."

Harkeeret Singh, global head of energy and sustainable technology at Thomson Reuters, agreed it was important to look at root causes.

"IT budgets are down and consumption is growing and the cloud is a technology that can make that work," he said.

Data security

Oracle's Baker said, "It is amazing to me how many companies do not secure at the data level even if they have the ability to do so."

SOCA's Strange agreed that many companies did not even have basic security. "Many people spend money on securing their datacentre, but when I ask them about the basics, such as dealing with the insider threat, compartmentalising data sets and locking down their data, they look at me with a blank face," he said.

Nokia's van der Kwast said data security also raised ethical issues. "We can know where you are, where you have been, who you have called," he said. "The only thing we don't know is where you are going. GPS data is persistent and is following you. How do we protect you from someone misusing data? How far do you want to go to deliver services to the individual and at the same time be ethical?"

Peter Thompson, head of IT at Addleshaw Goddard, said, "Consumerisation is upon us in IT, but no one has answered the security question about IT in the cloud. If the CEO comes in with an iPad and wants it to work with internal IT, it has to be done, but we need to ensure that multiple devices which have access to data at any time can access information in a secure way."

Regulatory compliance

Ensuring compliance with regulations and legislation was identified as a key issue with cloud computing.

Nokia's van der Kwast said, "You can outsource your data, someone else may have it, but you are still the accountable person if something goes wrong."

Jeff Smyth, programme manager at Balfour Beatty, said, "The legal and commercial perspective and who touches data preoccupies us. The cost of the cloud-based model is attractive for many companies, but often they are stuck in the bricks and ownership model."

Paul Sherrell, global server engineering manager at JP Morgan Chase, said regulation, ownership and responsibility for data varied for different sectors. "Banks are heavily regulated and that creates specific challenges," he said.

Natasha Davydova, managing director of group technology and operations at Deutsche Bank, said that although some industries were more regulated than others, "it is encouraging to see we are dealing with similar issues across different industries", and that issues had evolved.

"I went to data talks a while ago and the attitude was, 'The bigger the cloud, the more likely it is to rain on you.' This is changing, but we have a long way to go," she said.

Scott Laidlaw, datacentre consultant for Colt Telecom, said education was important. "There is a lot of uncertainty about what the cloud means to people and education is key - where it is and how it affects me regarding regulations are key questions," he said. "The cloud has to be somewhere and you must be able to specify where it is."

The cloud and business value

Moving to the cloud was about more than just technical issues, delegates agreed.

"The cloud is not about the technical stuff, it's the changes in culture and the business which are difficult," said Carl Taylor, IT director at QinetiQ.

Chris Anderson, IS infrastructure manager at City of London Corporation, said, "People, culture and business process changes are important considerations."

Andi McBurnie, director of IT architecture at Home Delivery Network, said the biggest challenge in any move to the cloud was creating real financial benefits. "If we can't relate to real savings, what's the incentive?" he asked.

Asser Elghoneimi, Middle East and Africa area infrastructure manager at GlaxoSmithKline, said, "Deciding what to host externally is a big question."

And working out what is best for each business is an important factor.

Martin Craig, head of IT infrastructure at IPC Media, said, "I'm not convinced the cloud is for everyone. It's great if you want extra storage or a test environment, but it is not for production."

Oracle UK technology director David Rajan said the decisions that companies made about their datacentre could have a real bearing on success. Oracle consolidated 40 datacentres to two a decade ago.

"The process we went through saved $1bn in the first year, and with hindsight that transformation gave us the agility to start the acquisition process and the ability to grow $4bn each year," he said. "The business case needs to be about achieving the agility to grow in the marketplace."

The future

The datacentres challenges for CIOs are evolving as attitudes towards technology change.

Chris Church, divisional head of IT - security solutions & services division at Thales, said, "The perspective of the next generation is critical. The generation before us would never have imagined our jobs and we can't imagine our children's. We are in a transitional position."

IT leaders may not be the ones to decide what happens, said Mace's Miller.

"Will it be our choice?" he asked. "Maybe it will be the users that decide. Often the IT department doesn't know what the users have bought, which affects the credibility of the governance role that the IT function can provide, but we should not try to protect our position. We need to work it out."

Guy Ruddock, datacentre infrastructure services director for Colt Telecom, said, "We put a bet on two years ago that the commoditisation of the datacentre was a given, the cloud was a given and the people who could house clouds had to be big in the market as the amateurs can't hack it, but there are a set of issues about security and specialisation."

Nokia's van der Kwast said, "We are in the middle of convergence and can win or lose depending on how flexible we are, but if we can't keep the lights on, we can forget any discussion with the business. Ten years from now, there will be a small number of companies providing cloud services and it is up to us how we get a maximum return for our companies based on what we can get in the market."

Transport for London CIO Ian Campbell said that although IT leaders "have a lot to contend with, they are meeting the challenge".

He added, "A new paradigm is being created and if we build today what we see today, we will be out of date. We have got to be about five or 10 years ahead and we need to nudge the bar to take us to where we want to be."

Read more on Data centre hardware