TCW: Doug, thanks for agreeing to speak with us today about data centers. First, tell us a little about yourself and the company you work for.

DT: I’ve been involved with Information Technology for 25 years, both from a vendor and internal staff perspective. I am the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Lifeline Data Centers. Lifeline provides off-premise computer room facilities for large and small companies.

TCW: At its most basic, what’s a data center?

image DT: A data center is a safe, secure place to operate your computer servers and to connect to them. We provide rack space, private cages of all sizes, and private rooms to companies.  More specifically, we provide a tornado proof building with power, cooling, security, fire suppression and access to telecommunications services.  Our clients bring in their computer and communications equipment and operate it out of our facilities.

TCW: While that certainly helps us understand what a data center is, what features should one look for when shopping for a data center?

DT: At a minimum, companies should look for:

  • A disaster-proof building
  • Power
  • Cooling
  • Security – limited access with surveillance
  • Fire suppression
  • Network connectivity
  • Managed IT services – if needed

Disaster-proof means that the data center is built to resist the disasters most common to the geographic area. Power should be redundant and protected by generators, so the data center can lose power but still keep your equipment running. Cooling should also be redundant, so the data center can lose some of its cooling capacity without affecting your systems. The Uptime Institute publishes a tiered rating system for data centers, and tier IV is the highest rating. Tier IV means no single point of failure.

[Note: For more information on requirements for data centers, see The TIA-942:Data Center Standards Overview (PDF)]

You should understand if the data center will allow you to manage the IT services for your equipment or if they expect to do that work for you.

You should also understand what choices you have in connecting to the outside world.  Some data centers provide you with all connectivity; others give you direct access to the telecom carriers such as AT&T and Time Warner.  Direct access to multiple carriers is usually better both for pricing and long-term flexibility.

TCW: How does a data center work?

DT: Data centers provide building facilities in which client companies operate their computer and communication systems.  Some data centers provide soup-to-nuts services including all computers, communications equipment, telecommunications connectivity, and IT managed services along with the building facilities.  Other data centers operate as a “high-tech landlord”, providing only the space, facilities and access to major telecom providers.  Most data centers fall somewhere between these two extremes. 

TCW: Why might a company need a data center?

DT: You might use a data center instead of building your own computer room at your office.  The off-premise data center offers the advantage of virtually unlimited space, power, cooling and telecom connectivity.  You might use a data center to augment your existing data center because your primary data center is out of space.  You might use a data center to build a secondary computer room to back up your primary data center in the event of a disaster.  You might put some of your systems in a data center to separate your internal systems from the systems your client can access.  You might use a data center to save money because it can be treated as an operating expense, whereas building your own data center is usually a capital expense.  Capital expenses have long term tax implications that can increase costs by as much as 40% over the long haul.

TCW: The data center industry has its own jargon. It can be confusing for some people. For instance, what is a fault-tolerant environment?

DT: Fault tolerant means that the data center can experience multiple failures or “faults” without affecting your computer systems.  For example, we provide two completely separate power systems to your computer equipment so that if we lose street power or if we lose a generator, your systems stay up and running.  We put multiple air conditioning units in every room so a failure in one or two air conditioning units doesn’t affect your equipment.

TCW: What other terms might our readers need to understand before they begin shopping for a data center?

DT: There are hundreds of terms in the data center business.  Here are a few key terms:

  • Hosting is a term that usually describes putting your software on data-center provided computers and equipment.
  • Colocation describes using a data center facility to house your own equipment, and the fact that other companies also have equipment “co-located” in the same facility.
  • Redundant power and cooling describe the fault tolerant systems detailed above, with the term redundant referring to multiple duplicate systems.
  • Managed services refers to the Information Technology services that the data center can optionally provide if you would rather have the data center do the work instead of your IT staff.
  • Carrier neutral is a term that describes full and open access to the telecommunications service providers in a data center.  Some data centers are carrier neutral.  Others offer their own bandwidth exclusively or offer only few carriers.  Some data centers charge you extra fees to connect to certain telecom providers.
  • Cross-connect fees are monthly add-on fees that some data centers charge to connect to the carriers in their facilities.

TCW: At Lifeline Data Centers, what types of services do you provide?

DT: Lifeline provides a number of services to meet client needs:

  • Hardened buildings built to resist F5 tornado
  • Tier IV redundant power, and cooling along with fire suppression, access security and video surveillance
  • Rack space, private cages or private suites for your computer systems
  • Fully customized electrical build outs based on your specifications
  • Carrier neutral access to over 15 telecommunications providers with no cross connect fees (AT&T and Qwest do require cross-connect fees)
  • The choice to perform all of your own IT services or use any of Lifeline’s suite of ala carte managed IT services
  • Remote backup and recovery services
  • Remote monitoring of equipment and systems

TCW: What types of clients do you serve?

DT: We have all sorts of clients, both large and small, and in many different industries.  Some clients have as little as a single website on one of our servers.  Others have private cages with dozens of racks of computers and equipment.  Industries include health care, food services, Internet e-commerce, product distributors and retail.  The common thread is that these businesses rely on their computer systems for success. And their cost of downtime is extremely high.

TCW: Can you mention a client or two and what you do for them?

DT: We provide Indiana’s largest health care network with data center space for their disaster recovery site, their overflow primary systems, and their network core.  We provide a major big box appliance retailer with space and services for their primary data center.  We provide Indiana University with their Internet hub and the state-funded ILight network.  We provide managed services for the company that manages all luggage orders placed through the airlines’ SkyMall magazine.

TCW: Do folks interact with data centers and don’t realize they do?

DT: Absolutely, most e-commerce traffic, patient care data, and cash register point-of-sale data travels through a data center. If you place an order for goods on the Internet, that data travels though a data center.  Most folks have no idea where a website physically exists. They primarily exist in a data center somewhere.

TCW: Data center business is booming. I understand you’re going to be locating to a new facility. Tell us about this.

DT: Indianapolis has a number of unique features that make it an ideal place for companies to locate their data center.  Our vision is to transform Indianapolis into a major information highway hub.  Lifeline has purchased the Eastgate Mall in Indianapolis, a 40 acre abandoned shopping mall built in the 1950s.  On this campus we are building 450,000 square feet of data center space supported by 200,000 square feet of office space.  Why Indy?  The low cost of power, construction, and housing along with a central location provides an abundance of telecom connectivity just a day’s drive from half of the US population.  Lifeline provides high quality, centrally located, flexible data center facilities at the low end of the pricing spectrum.

TCW: What are some of the things to look for when shopping for a data center?

DT: Do you have choices in the type of space you need: rack space, private cages or private rooms?  Is it a hardened facility?  Are the power and cooling fault tolerant?  Is it secure and protected?  How many telecom carriers can you access?  Can the power and cooling be customized to your needs?  Is the pricing model and contract flexible?  Do you have to pay lots of little add-on fees?  Is the company privately held, owner operated and/or financially stable?  I believe that flexibility, fault tolerance and a good financial model are the key issues.

TCW: What are some common misperceptions about data centers?

DT: Many people think that off-premise data centers cost more than building your own. That’s often not true because most folks don’t calculate the true costs of the electricity, the facility improvements that would be needed, and the ongoing expertise and management costs.  Add the costs of capital expenditures versus operating expenses, and the off-premise data centers often have a much lower cost of ownership.

TCW: Are there any financial benefits to using a data center?

DT: There are almost always financial benefits.  It’s a fairly easy thing to calculate.

TCW: Doug, we’re out of time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DT: An off-premise data center is one of the easiest ways to eliminate barriers to growth and change in your business.  If you’re running out of space, power and cooling for your computers, give us a call.

TCW: Thanks, Doug. I think you’ve helped our readers better understand the data center. It’s much appreciated.