A data center partner for a small to mid-sized business is a good thing to have. Local data centers have been succeeding where the big guys have been having trouble. Many small cities have these boutique data centers that help local companies slug through issues that range from the simple to the strange and complex.
Jeff Biggs, CIO for Peak 10 Data Center Solutions, has had a lot of experience working with local companies to solve simple problems as well as some of the strangest. He says, "Back in 2002 we had a customer that was troubleshooting a Voice Over IP problem. They get us on the phone and tell us that they can 'hear a network problem.'" Apparently, there was a crackling noise on the line that occurred every 50 seconds. This company was obviously an early adopter, so there were not a lot of tools out there to help Jeff and his team diagnose the issue. "VoIP is UDP-based so we hopped on the internet and found a tool that basically traces UDP packets." They were able to determine that every 50 seconds a packet would drop.
Bird-dogging the occasional mystery bug happens more often than you might think and if you operate in a small city, it's a good bet that a successful and long-operating boutique data center has hired the best technologists in the area. Having a relationship with them can keep you from banging your head against the wall and, in the case of a local university in Louisville, KY, even save the day.
"I got a call from a local university one day asking if we could be there at 5:00 that same day," Explains Biggs. "They weren't even a customer." Jeff got a couple of his technical staff together and went over to see how they could help. Apparently, the entire IT staff just walked off the job and left the university in a lurch. "It took us 10 hours just to get e-mail unraveled." After that day, Jeff became acting CIO for the school and helped them find a new CIO and IT team. As you can predict, the school became a customer.
An interesting quality about some of these boutique data centers is their tie to the community. In Jeff's case, he has seen several good customers move on to host their own servers. One customer had 12 racks in their Louisville, Kentucky data center. As the company grew, they needed additional office space. They ended up buying a building that had a data center already built into it so they moved their equipment out of Peak 10. "Great, that's awesome," said Biggs. "They grew their team and expertise. They graduated. I like to see that." Having that attitude has helped the company on several fronts. Parting on good terms usually leads to new sales leads later on.
The friendly neighborhood data center also helps start up companies get off the ground. Peak 10 has a Technology Accelerator Program (TAP) that helps small companies get started cheaply. Over the years, however, a formula has built up. "Whenever I see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I run for cover," says Biggs. "The four horsemen are 'We're going to have big Sun servers, Oracle databases, tons of bandwidth and a bunch of consultants.' You need to start small and see if you can make it work. That way, you're a customer for 10 years and not six months."
If you're not leveraging a data center partner, you could find yourself in trouble in other ways. Unfortunately, most of the sales leads come from CFOs and CEOs seeking them out. "I hear 'We can't understand what our IT guy is talking about' all the time," says Biggs. Business managers frustrated with their internal IT staff will typically turn to a local data center because of the technical expertise and the ability to speak in business terms, i.e., the acronym-free way of explaining what technology is needed and why and answering how it's going to affect the bottom line.
"We see this too often," says Biggs. "The visionary CIO is not threatened by us. The tactical IT director is. We are here to help. To off-load the mundane and repetitive so that IT organizations can focus on new and innovative ways to help their company grow."
Many times the business can't understand why a file could not be restored. To them, these seem like very simple things that IT departments around the world do every day. They don't understand that the capital request that was denied for a new DLT tape drive or an extra server and clustering software to build application redundancy is truly the root cause. And if you as the IT leader cannot explain it in a way that the business understands, as unfair as it sounds, the capital being declined is your fault. It sucks, but that's the naked truth. My advice is, if you have not already, find a data center partner (note the Vendor vs. Partner difference, see posts here and here) and let them do what they do best, make you look good. Don't be threatened by them. Embrace them.