Is it time to build your own data centre?

Chris Wellfair, Projects Director at Secure IT Environments examines the dilemma of building or co-hosting a data centre in the public sector

At a time when all public sector departments and institutions are still watching expenditure closely, what do you do if your current data centre arrangements are reaching ‘end of life’?  If you are of the mind that you want  your systems and data within arms reach then for most IT Directors the question is one of whether to invest in a data centre build, refurbishment or upgrade, or to outsource IT to a co-hosting company.  A difficult decision to make especially in light of the fact that both options have very clear benefits.  So which way do you go; own it yourself, or co-host?

Starting afresh

Building your own data centre affords you the flexibility to design and build a facility that is made to measure, specific to your organisation and entirely within your own control. A well designed and built data centre will add capital value to an organisation as well as peace of mind that the IT infrastructure is onsite and within sight – the build is flexible and you have complete control over the intricacies of how it is put together.  Even when space is limited, a data centre can be fitted into ‘dead space’ within an office environment – using modular data centre systems these spaces that would ordinarily be wasted can be turned into highly secure IT environments.

Some clients even do the reverse, and build data centres that offer additional space for other parts of their operations – at Secure IT Environments we were recently asked to add a multi-faith room as part of a data centre build specification. We have also built roof gardens, which is a green addition to what is ordinarily perceived as a ‘tech space’.

Building or upgrading a data centre has costs that are fixed and pre-determined, the initial outlay, although often significant, is planned and in effect a one-off investment that requires limited funding for a number of years before any upgrades are required.  Certainly a build that is well planned can provide state of the art equipment that is energy efficient and up to date.  The total cost of ownership for these schemes can offer additional benefits to the public sector.

Plan for expanding

Expanding a data centre can be very limited if an implementation is confined to internal office space, so think about your future needs even if your implementation is small.  External data centres do not have to be large, but designing for expansion through modular technology can offer a quick and easy route to achieve a seamless expansion programme, making for a swift and clean process when the time arrives.

Should I co-host?

Many organisations choose to co-host, but others deem it to be inflexible in some respects, with concerns over sharing facilities, the infrastructure being out of physical reach, and ultimately a feeling that they are not in control. Co-hosting facilities are however by their nature continually upgrading and improving facilities, giving organisations with little or no budget the option to tap into new technology on an ongoing basis.  In addition, the services that you are buying require no capital expenditure, and the way they are accounted for can be very attractive to the finance director.  Assuming the co-hosting costs are managed and capped within reason, access to this ongoing technological development can be achieved on a relatively low budget.

If your department has a small IT team with limited experience, the co-hosting option allows the team in effect to ‘out-source the IT responsibility’ to someone with more experience – providing a knowledge base that ordinarily would not be available in a smaller IT unit.  Speed is also a very attractive benefit in co-hosting – changes to the environment are almost instant giving a level of flexibility that is not available within an owned data centre.

On and on…

So whilst there are benefits and shortcomings of both co-hosting and building a data centre, the truth is that circumstance will dictate the route to take.  Think about how much control you need and how close you want to be to your data, as well as the financial commitments that you are prepared to make in the short and medium term.   Make your own decisions and have an open-mind, don’t let the experiences of others sway you too much – a data centre is a strategic investment whichever route you take, and has to be the right one for your departmental or regional needs, not somebody else’s.