BT Global Services offers virtual data centre services

Several previous attempts at on-demand computing and application services never got off the ground. But virtual data centres could be born aloft cloud computing, claims BT.

In mid-June BT Global Services announced the launch of its Virtual Data Center (VDC) service at the Handelsblatt Telecommunications Market Europe conference in Dusseldorf, Germany.

TechTarget U.K. caught up with Neil Sutton, BT's vice president of global services, to find out how the offering differs from other "on demand" and "managed services" on the market -- and that have disappointed -- over the past few decades.

"Yes," admitted Sutton, "there's nothing new in IT. The first use of the phrase on demand dates back to the 1940s, but this offering is Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas), and it's a lot more realistic."

With the virtual data centre service, BT Global Services has three aims: (1) to use its expertise and economies of scale to reduce IT operational costs and (2) to widen the flexibility and (3) improve the predictability of data centre computing.

BT will use its own code for service capture, while the infrastructure is built on a foundation of HP Opsware (for service provisioning), Intellident (networks), NetApp (for storage), VMware (for virtualisation) and Radius (for software delivery).

Unlike previous incarnations of IT service offerings, such as application service providers (ASPs), this has a broader base of elements, but a tighter focus of application, he argued. "We're not offering software as a thinly spread service. We're offering an infrastructure as a service in very well-defined areas," Sutton said.

The virtual data centre brings together four elements: computing, storage, networking and security. "Until now, the last two elements were not offered," said Sutton. "Virtualisation drives down the cost by around 30%. Yes, companies could do that themselves. But we offer the complete integration of networking and security too."

Sutton outlined the options for virtual data centre security and networking. "It depends on the type of applications the connections include, whether it's by Internet, virtual private network or MPLS [Multiprotocol Label Switching], for example," he said. In release one, BT will use a standard Cisco common front end into its data centres, which includes a layer of security. Another option is an antivirus service. Security will be updated regularly, he promised. "We will release extra security layers with each 90-day release," he said.

Is this compute and storage on demand like Amazon Web Services (AWS)?
Sutton claimed it is different from Amazon. He says BT global services has targeted enterprise customers who require higher service-level agreements than the developer community that uses Amazon Web Services (AWS). Over the past few weeks, Verizon and AT&T have made some announcements in this space. He believes BT will offer a higher level of automation that is orchestrated through its portal.

The pricing will be per virtual machine, gigabyte of storage or megabyte of bandwidth on an annual basis. The service is orchestrated and automatically deployed through an online portal that builds the infrastructure from a standardised and pre-provisioned infrastructure in BT's data centres.

Where the ASP market failed, Sutton argued, was that it offered too broad a range of applications. VDC will be much more narrowly targeted, lending itself to certain applications -- enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management principally -- and to large enterprises and public-sector bodies.

"We can provision the service quickly, so some applications can be run over our service initially, then brought in-house later," he said. In a time when budgets are frozen, capital expenditure might rule out managing a new application in-house, whereas a hosted data centre service could be afforded on operational costs.

"The key difference is that nowadays we can provide the visibility and the predictability companies want," he said. "The hard bit for them is the networking and security, and we can cover that."

The BT data centres on which the cloud computing service will be offered are spread across the U.K., although in 2009, new centres will open in France, Germany and Spain.

In theory it could be a good idea, especially for companies where expenditure for IT projects has been frozen and the support staff head count is down, said David Turner, marketing director with software vendor Agresso, which has so far resisted working with BT. "The economics of a virtual data centre sound pretty impressive. It's an area a lot of people would want to get into now," he said.

Analyst Rob Bamforth, senior researcher at Quocirca, was not so sure. "Hosting was ASP 2.0, and I'm not sure we've moved a long way since. And yet, the industry could have moved that critical inch forward that makes all the difference."

One very persuasive factor is in BT's favour. "Companies cannot afford to invest in a dead duck, whether it's a vendor selling IT, or a service provider," said Bamforth. "You cannot afford to invest in a project or company that collapses." A stable service provider, such as BT, offers the best chance of risk mitigation, he argued.

Roy Illsley, senior researcher for analyst the Butler Group, conducted a technology audit on the services. He said VDC is a sign of the change in how we buy IT, from the traditional capital investment (CAPEX) model to a revenue (OPEX) model. This is driven by investment decisions regarding IT budgets. "BT's virtual data centres should let companies select the approach most suited to their needs and to compare that hosted solution against providing the same service internally."

Nick Booth is a contributor to

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