BT preps for October launch of Virtual Data Centre service

Head of IT services Craig Parker discusses BT's Virtual Data Centre (VDC) service and why U.K. businesses are ready to micro-manage their own cloud.

BT is preparing to roll out its Virtual Data Centre (VDC) service to deliver virtualised IT services in the U.K., including servers, storage, networks and security that customers will be able to control in real time via an online portal.

But are companies really ready to micro-manage their own cloud? Craig Parker, head of IT Services at BT Global Services, thinks they are.

When will the service be available?
Craig Parker:
We are ready to sell, ready to service on 12 October. This is a natural extension of our existing business. As virtualisation technology has come to the market over the last three to four years, we have been adopting it very heavily.

About two years ago, we launched a simple virtualisation service. For that, we have customers like Edinburgh City Council, where we virtualised 300 servers for them. The VDC service is a much wider service, which includes servers, storage, security and networks accessed through a portal. The IT that BT is putting into this is all of the coding, [including] the configuration and management database, the support environment, and all of the management and the monitoring tools. Customers can click to build and click to buy a complete data centre infrastructure.

How will the VDC service work in practice?
A lot of customers are talking to us around test and development systems. From working with their application vendor they may have decided that they needed 50 servers to support that application, but when they build those servers and they load their data, they then realise the database has grown a bit bigger than they were looking at, so they need to add another three or four virtual machines. They can go on to the portal and they can add more virtual machines, which will be deployed within an hour.

What is the minimum contract length and how is the service priced?
We start off with standard pricing on a three-year contract, then there are options around standard, economy or enhanced services [depending on performance requirements].

Then there are volume discounts [and] discounts for five-year terms, and there will be one-year and three-month pricing options, too. There are also flex options [to increase the number of servers for short periods for customers on longer contracts. Storage is on a cost-per-gigabyte basis.

Where are the servers on which the service is based?
This service is less geographically focused than our traditional data centre business. It is going to be held in our data centre in Croydon, replicated to our Cardiff data centre in the U.K.

Do businesses really want to deal with scaling their virtual hosted set-up themselves. Don't they prefer managed services?
The market is maturing, and while there will be companies who want to have a managed service, a lot of customers -- maybe the smaller ones -- will be happy to work through the portal.

Maybe larger and more complex systems where you are looking at a 400-to-500-virtual-machine environment, they might be looking more for BT to drive the portal.

So the service is aimed more at small and medium-sized businesses, then?
Well that is what we thought in the first instance, but actually, no -- we have seen opportunities right across the ranks. We are working with a logistics company responding to an RFI around a major transaction website, which will need a few hundred servers to support that site.

We are also working with a couple of pilot customers at the B2B end that just want 10 servers hosted in a more cost-efficient way.

Aren't there challenges involved in migrating existing applications to the service?
There are, but customers looking to virtualise have to do the same level of migration anyway.

We have got a lot of application discovery tools; we can track and rate the applications to plan the move from physical to virtual.

We also have a lot of tools to rightsize, so customers can move applications currently on a medium-size physical server to a small virtual server. Then we do application interdependency mapping just to ensure that we don't go virtualising one app when a lot of other applications are really dependent upon it.

How flexible is the service? Can data be migrated in and out without limit?
The easy answer is yes. There are some physical limitations in the first instance, but as part of the roadmap we will be building that.

There will be restrictions around the types of applications we will be bringing on, but again, we are addressing that in our roadmap. At the minute, we are targeting Wintel-based environments, back-office systems, R&D and Web-based applications, but in time we are looking to bring on other operating systems.

What service levels can people expect?
We are going to market with three nines and a five [99.95 percent system availability] across the whole service.

About the interviewee: Craig Parker is responsible for leading activities including sales, marketing, product development and service management for BT's data centre, storage and IT transformation services. Parker joined BT in 2003 from Hitachi Data Systems, where he was the company's business development manager. Previously, he had held a similar role with information management and storage specialist EMC.

Prior to that, Parker was with KPMG Consulting. There, he managed the implementation of SAP solutions into KPMG's EMEA customers and helped develop two new lines of business for KPMG -- its ERP outsourcing service and IT reseller business. In all, Parker has more than 15 years' IT-related experience.

Since joining BT, Parker managed the launch of BT's data storage solutions and been responsible for many significant sales of BT's IT services. He has also helped the company develop its relationships with key industry partners, including EMC, Cisco and HP.

Parker is a Qualified Certified Accountant and lives in Brighton, on England's south coast, and is married with two children.

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