Housing Technology interviewed Kevin Kivlochan, sales and marketing director of ONI, on how housing providers could use data centre services.
Why should housing providers look at data centres?
At a time of ever-growing reliance on IT, all housing providers need internal and external systems to be reliable, scalable and, most importantly, secure.
Long before universal credit, most housing providers were looking at ways to offer more choice for tenants to interact with their landlord and self-serve. The advantages to this are not just transactional cost savings. Transactions online can improve tenant satisfaction by enabling tenants to interact at a time which is convenient to them and in a location which suits them best.
In addition, ONI is seeing many housing providers transform the way their staff operate. Introducing flexible and mobile working solutions is reducing complexity and risk as well as producing significant cost savings and improvements in tenant and staff satisfaction.
These demands for evolving digital services to be highly available and cost effective are encouraging many housing providers to look at external data centres to house and securely maintain their core IT systems and applications.
What should they look for when choosing a data centre?
When selecting a data centre partner, it is essential that organisations look past the data halls and flashy marketing materials. Clearly, it is essential that the data centre provider can guarantee service availability; however, we are seeing clients looking for a partnership with a provider who has the expertise, experience and a flexibility to support their transformational journey wherever this may lead.
It is also important to ensure you visit the facility to ensure it’s on UK shores and to confirm that the resilience, infrastructure and security are as the marketing material has outlined. Particular attention should be focused on the following key areas – generators and UPS systems, power distribution, cooling, fire prevention and suppression, connectivity, diverse routing to racks, and security processes.
ONI would also suggest that time is taken to consider commercial matters such as flexible contracts and simple, open pricing structures.
One additional point is to understand the ownership of the facility. Many data centre operators either lease space in another provider’s facility or lease a building to provide their data centre services. In both arrangements, landlords or owners may invoke changes which could have implications for the supply of services and cause changes and disruptions to your service. ONI’s recommendation is that you fully understand the terms of your supplier’s lease so you can consider if this is a risk you are willing to accept.
Can you explain the spectrum of data centre options?
There are several models that can exist; ONI see the following which we can accommodate:
- DIY – organisations who want to build their own facility and manage this process in-house or via contractors. However, it is widely recognised that building a reliable and highly-available data centre needs considerable investment in both time and money, hence the reason why many organisations are turning to providers like ONI who have already made this investment and can share the costs across multiple organisations, resulting in a lower cost of ownership for our housing customers.
- Co-location – This is typically when an organisation has already made an investment in equipment and infrastructure and requires a secure, reliable and highly-available facility to house their investment. In a typical co-location arrangement, the data centre provider is responsible for the racks, space, power and cooling and to ensure the site and facility are secure for clients who are responsible for the systems within the racks provided.
- Managed co-location – This is a hybrid of the above; in this model, the data centre provider will take on additional support for the equipment within the racks. ONI is well placed to deliver this service, which many data centre providers don’t offer, due to our data centre being on the same campus as our technical assistance centre and engineering hub.
- XaaS – These are a range of ‘as-a-service’ or cloud services built on platforms that the data centre provider has already built and can offer as a service to its clients. Once again, not all data centre providers offer these services. ONI offers a range of services including infrastructure-as-a-service, backup-as-a-service and DR-as-a-service, providing clients with a range of fully-managed propositions to run applications and services from.
What are the business advantages of using a data centre? And the IT advantages?
The business advantages of using an external data centre are focused around lower cost of ownership, reduced risk and higher availability for critical tenant- and employee-facing systems.
Housing providers don’t need to incur costs for buildings or maintaining a data centre internally and can also scale up and down as required. In contrast, by keeping the data centre internally, provision must made for the largest deployment from day one and may result in costly space under-utilisation.
For IT, the benefits associated with reliability ensures that IT can focus on delivering services to tenants and staff, safe in the knowledge that the data centre will always be available and not subject to power outages that can cause significant work-loads to bring services back online.
With the growth of cloud services such as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), both IT and the business can respond in minutes rather than months. Data centre providers can set up servers in minutes and allow new services to be tested or demand to be met without the usual delays of onsite purchases. Then once the demand, service or pilot is complete, simply turn off the server and stop paying for it.
Are there any common misconceptions about data centres?
Data centres are one of the last bastions of ‘smoke and mirrors’. After 22 years as an IT service provider, ONI decided when building our data centre in 2010 to remove the smoke screen and start from a blank sheet of paper.
The biggest misconception I see about data centres is the tiering system. The guidelines for what makes a data centre tier 1, 2, 3 or 4 are exactly that, a guideline. We position our data centre as tier 3+ because ONI meets all of the requirements for tier 3 and almost all of the requirements for tier 4, but the important thing to understand is that data centres are self-classified, so we always encourage our prospective clients to visit our facility to see for themselves the significant investment ONI has made for our clients.
Another common misconception is that all services are the same. I recently attended an event where an IT director talked about the maze of hidden charges and terms and conditions associated with a data centre provider’s services. At ONI, we have decided to build our services in a transparent and simple way. We believe that we are an extension of our clients’ IT service and therefore have to deliver services in a flexible and open manner. So again, chose a partner that is right for your organisation and will deliver the services you would expect as if it were your own.