Last week, Computacenter opened the first facility in the UK to offer multi-supplier proof-of-concept and testing services in an independent environment.
Managing risk can be the trickiest part of an IT project. While the technologies may look fine on the drawing board, there is always the possibility that the gremlins will come out in force when all the elements of the project are put together.
However, suppliers claim that facilities such as Computacenter's Solutions Centre, which have vast arrays of the latest hardware and software technology, could help ease the implementation of large projects.
IT analysts agree. Miriam Bromnick, senior analyst at research firm Ovum said, "It allows people to reduce the level of risk in IT projects." The sheer scale of the centre and the amount of hardware on offer is sure to benefit users.
Implementing major IT projects is a risky business. The problems recently encountered by the Public Record Office's 1901 census site have highlighted the importance of meticulous preparation, especially when it comes to issues such as load testing.
Mike Norris, Computacenter's chief executive, said, "The Solutions Centre will enable businesses to minimise the risks of deploying new technology while maximising their return on investment. It will play a crucial role in IT decision-making for organisations across the UK."
The facility, which cost £3.5m to build, contains "millions of pounds worth of kit", including an IBM Regatta server and one of Europe's first Sun Fire 15K machines from Sun Microsystems.
The highly secure site has eight testing labs, allowing up to eight different users to work on projects at any one time. Users are issued with security passes that only give them access to their own labs.
The sheer scale of the testing centre is impressive. The centre currently offers technology from about 50 different hardware suppliers and 50 software suppliers, although Computacenter plans to expand this in the future.
Cornhill Insurance was one of the first companies to use the Solutions Centre. It is using the site to beta test a storage project. Rob Adams, IT infrastructure and planning manager at Cornhill, explained, "The Solutions Centre provides a simulated production environment where we can evaluate the proposed storage architecture." This has reduced the element of risk and shortened the time it would have taken to complete the evaluation internally.
It certainly makes sound business sense to test IT projects prior to rolling them out. At the end of the day, companies want to be on the front pages of the newspapers for their successes not their failures.
Testing centres are not only beneficial to projects in the development stage. "If people have left their testing until late in the project life-cycle, facilities such as
the testing centre could give them the opportunity to quickly get back on track," explained Bromnick. However, it is always cost-effective to plan testing as early as possible in the project lifecycle, she warned.
One area that has an extremely patchy record of implementing major IT projects is the public sector. Even government ministers have highlighted the likes of the Passport Office fiasco as underlining the need for effective management of IT projects.
Computacenter said the Solutions Centre offers the perfect environment for the Government to test major IT schemes. The services specialist has even built a test area specifically for government projects which has been designed according to MoD security guidelines.
Norris was unable to confirm whether any government projects are currently being tested there, although he did admit that the facility would be perfect for the type of IT projects undertaken by Whitehall.
When it comes to managing risk on large scale projects, some organisations may feel they have the in-house skills to deal with the complexities involved, but for others, using a testing centre such as the one built by Computacenter could be a worthwhile investment. "They can increase their insurance against risk by using these resources," Bromnick explained.