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Unlocking the potential of utility computing

Vodafone is investing €7m in data services, opening new storage and security options for Irish businesses

Vodafone’s recently announced €7million investment in new data centre services for its Irish customers will open up a new range of options for high-growth innovative companies in this country, according to Liam O’Brien, Vodafone’s head of business product development.

"This is part of the expansion of our cloud and hosting business across Europe, " he says. "Our customers will now be in a position to enhance their IT security, increase their operational flexibility and reduce costs. They will now be able to securely outsource their full IT hardware resources and store large volumes of data and have software applications with Vodafone in either dedicated or shared infrastructure environments."

The offering involves a comprehensive range of cloud and hosting services, from simple co-location to managed hosting, private cloud and the very latest infrastructure as a service (IaaS) concepts which can eliminate the need for businesses to maintain extensive IT resources, helping them to become more flexible, more secure and save costs. “We already offer these services in some markets and we are now bringing them to our Irish customers,” O’Brien adds. “We are offering the services from three facilities in the Dublin area; we have our own Vodafone internal datacentre along with two other sites. We will use them for backup, security, resilience and so on. We are offering everything from simple co-location, to private cloud, managed services, managed hosting, managing and maintaining hardware for our customers within the centres, right up to infrastructure as a service. This makes flexible computing in a shared environment available to our Irish customers.”

He explains that businesses can have processing and computing requirements that vary dramatically over the course of a year. A retailer with an online presence may have vastly increased requirements at Christmas, for example, but for the rest of the year have a much lower need. The flexible computing offered by the IaaS model allows this capacity to be flexed up and down according to business needs.

“We back this up with the full range of services including storage, security, and the professional team to design and implement solutions on behalf of our customers,” says O’Brien.

Flexible computing

The IaaS model, while relatively new, is not a complete departure. “People understand cloud storage very well”, O’Brien points out. “Things like

Dropbox

and

Google

Drive are very familiar to most of us. But storage and processing power work hand in hand in the cloud in the same way as they do in a device like a laptop. And if you have the ability to connect at high speed to processing capacity in the cloud the processor doesn’t need to be on a device or even in the same building. This is what enables infrastructure as a service or flexible computing.”

The model can also work in reverse and this is what brought about the birth of Amazon Web Services, he explains. This division of Amazon sells spare datacentre and processing capacity to customers during periods when the giant retailer doesn't require it. These services are particularly useful for fast-growth companies. "Any company growing quickly can meet physical constraints in terms of computer hardware and connectivity requirements," O'Brien explains. "Behind every click on a website there is an application running somewhere to process it. Companies which are growing quickly need the ability to constantly add processing and storage capacity. In the old days you had to physically go in and add hardware in a datacentre. That's where the stories about servers falling over came from because companies were vulnerable to faults in individual pieces of hardware."

These vulnerabilities are removed by the IaaS model. “The datacentre is a vast repository of storage and processing capacity which can be made available to different customers at different times. There are no physical constraints in terms of the resources available to them. We can ring-fence certain capacity for customers to ensure that they always have a minimum service level but sometimes customers need to grow, and grow very quickly. Without services such as this companies would have to go out and buy the hardware for themselves, maintain it and look after it, and have it sitting there unused for much of the time.”

Spike in demand

Utility computing available via a high-speed internet connection offers a much more cost-efficient solution.

“This is becoming better understood even for large companies but particularly for start-ups and born-on-the-web companies,” O’Brien continues. “They don’t have to worry about processing capacity if they have big spike in demand or a huge online sale. We can put a policy in place to automatically add capacity whenever a certain percentage of the customer’s existing allocation is utilised so they don’t even have to think about the issue.”

It also reduces complexity. “Companies are adding more complexity as they grow and people in their IT departments can spend up to half of their time just managing hardware; maintaining it, looking after it, making sure it is still running. That time is being taken up with non-value-adding activity. We take that headache away. If they know that hardware capacity is there when they need it the IT departments can devote their time to more value-added.”

Legacy systems

It also allows legacy systems to be accommodated. “Many firms have legacy systems going back as far as the 1980s and they have to keep them running. The internal IT departments can look after these while outsourcing other, newer applications and services. This is the hybrid cloud which involves a bit of old-fashioned co-location and managed services and a bit of modern IaaS. Some customers will want us to look after everything and it can be a gradual evolution over time for others.”

According to Vodafone enterprise director Anne Sheehan, the introduction of the new services is a natural step in the company's transition to a total communications provider.

"Our customers such as Ryanair are increasingly moving their critical IT services to the cloud. We can now offer the ability to host their IT services in our secure data centre facilities. The opportunity offered by cloud services is transforming businesses today and we believe that Vodafone is ideally placed to help companies bring together fixed, mobile and cloud technologies to the best effect."

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