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Sun 23 Mar 2008 09:00 AM

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Datacentres (aren’t) forever

Imthishan Giado says that enterprises should rethink skimping on datacentre investment - or face the consequence of being swallowed by the upcoming explosion in data.

A recent HP-commissioned survey revealed a somewhat worrying statistic - more than one third of CIOs believe that in two to five years, their datacentres will be unable to meet what HP terms the growing demand for services and applications.

It's more than worrying - it may be even be sensationalist. While some will dismiss it as a ploy by HP to sell more servers and services, others might say is what the survey alternatively states is that close to two thirds of CIOs are satisfied that their vital datacentre infrastructure can handle growth in the near and medium term future.

So, no reason to panic then? Not quite.

For the average enterprise, a datacentre represents the single largest investment in IT equipment it is likely to make. It's not just about buying an assortment of servers and setting it up in an air-conditioned shed somewhere on the premises; it requires a team of consultants to design, arrangements with utility companies to ensure uninterrupted power, and often dedicated staff to manage it. Once operational, it becomes the nerve centre, the beating heart of an entire company. Unless an enterprise is experiencing stratospheric growth, buying a datacentre doesn't happen every day.

It's not just the expenditure. Budgeting and building a datacentre takes place at one point in a organisation's life cycle; by the time it actually comes online, in the current IT climate the data and clients it's required to manage may have grown exponentially. As the HP survey suggests, more than a few CIOs worry that it simply won't be able to cope.

For the Middle East, this poses a number of challenges. First, as a CIO remarked to me some months ago, many companies here - though ticking ‘enterprise' in the description box - would actually only be considered SMBs on a global scale. That means most organisations are likely to only be using a single datacentre - and with the generally haphazard nature of datacentre builds in the region, many would be reluctant to classify equipment on the tier scale used globally.

Second, virtualisation has been stealing headlines across the Middle East as a means of extracting more efficiency from existing hardware. It's like building a skyscraper in Dubai and then after a few years, installing solar panels on top to run the air-conditioning during the day.

Here's where I go out on a limb and posit a theory. Given my understanding of organisations in the Middle East and the budgetary pressures under which CIOs operate, I believe that given the option to either build a new datacentre or look for ways to extend the life of an existing facility, most regional enterprises would plump for the latter.

If, as IDC suggests and the HP survey confirms, the world is in the midst of a data explosion, without knowing precisely where it's all going to end, companies are not going to open their warchests and sink a significant portion of their budget into building infrastructure.

The first casualties are likely to be non-essential, PR and marketing friendly initiatives such as building greener datacentres. Even if they have the long term potential to save enterprises money, companies know that even the highest utility bill is nothing compared to the cost of building and designing a new datacentre.

More worryingly, I believe disaster recovery plans will be among those headed for the chopping block - after all, why construct expensive offshore facilities to provide data redundancy and an alternative operations centre, when it's much cheaper to keep the datacentre as close as possible to head office?

Expect the two thirds of CIOs who feel smugly satisfied in the capability of their equipment to wake up in a cold sweat any day now.

Am I being alarmist? Is datacentre development in region proceeding smoothly along global lines? Drop me a line at with your thoughts and comments.

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