When multiple data centres make sense

Satellite data centres could offer substantial benefits

Decentralization pitfalls

Babineau said the biggest downside to regional data centres is that customers have to disperse the workforce. But the cost savings from locating a data centre in a relatively low-cost area such as Arizona or the Pacific Northwest could outweigh the detriments of having employees spread out across the country.

Of course, there are higher management and staffing requirements in a decentralized environment -- reasons that one Gartner analyst is vehemently against the notion. "Gartner's view is that clients need to move to the smallest number of data centres and make them as large as possible -- and to limit the number of satellite locations," said Rakesh L. Kumar, an analyst Surrey, England. "This way, an organization is able to streamline its people resources and operational processes."

Steve Sams, an IBM vice president for site and facilities services in New York, agreed. "We do not see a trend in moving to satellite data centres," he said. "In fact, the trend is just the opposite, with customers moving toward data centre consolidation."

Sams pointed to an example with an unnamed client company that went from 32 data centres down to just two and is now saving $US180 million annually in operational costs. He also referred to a Gartner study that indicates that 57% of those surveyed plan to consolidate in the next 12 to 18 months.

"In most cases, it is easier to define and manage a set of best-of-breed operational procedures across a small number of data centers versus a large number of data centers," Sams added.

Kumar wondered about the $US180 million savings for the IBM customer, saying that most data center managers would not see such a dramatic drop in operational costs due to consolidation.

The bottom line

Overall, the case could be made that satellite data centres certainly make sense in some information-dependent industries, especially those that would completely shut down their operations if a data centre failed. For others, such as an industrial organization that depends more on manufacturing and shipping equipment, centralization may be the right move to lower IT costs.

Satellite data centres are still common and are perhaps even a more viable approach for some companies than is the centralization tack. As with much in IT, there is no hard and fast rule that works for all.

John Brandon worked in IT management for 10 years before starting a full-time writing career. He lives in Fergus Falls, Minn., and can be reached at johnmbrandon@gmail.com.

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