One question many companies have when contemplating the potential of remote hosting services is 'how secure is my data?'. In fact, such services are normally more secure with client data than the clients have ever been themselves—after all, it is a core part of their business. But Lincoln-based Centrinet has come up with an impressive solution to the problem of users' perceptions about security and remote hosting services.
Centrinet is an established specialist in the remote management of client data centres, with clients all over the world. Managing Director, Kelly Smith, had for some time been contemplating a move into the remote hosting marketplace, seeing it as a natural extension of the company's core business. But the move would have to be a hosting service that offered something a bit different, a particular service or capability that users would find particularly useful.
The solution came in the form of an advert for a piece of property that is not often found in estate agents' windows: an ex-Ministry of Defence nuclear blast proof bunker sunk some 20 or more feet into a remote corner of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Once upon a time it had been a radar station, so already came with much of the necessary fundamental infrastructure. It has 4-metre thick reinforced concrete walls and ready-made security provisions—not least of which is the problem of actually trying to find it—coupled to a £15m refurbishment it had received from a previous owner. Centrinet found it had the ideal facility for a highly secure, carbon neutral remote hosting service.
The carbon neutrality comes from a contract for energy supplies taken out with Ecotricity, which specialises in supplying carbon-neutral electricity to the National Grid from its growing number of wind farms. This also allows Centrinet to offer customers certificates that can be traded on the carbon trading markets.
So Centrinet has now started operating the facility as Smartbunker, with a total of some 30,000 square feet of floor space available, in a number of different rooms, most of which are still awaiting development. This layout offers the company significant growth potential for a wide range of services, divided up amongst the rooms of the facility according to market demand. For example, because it is already equipped with two entirely separate connections to electricity supplies from different sections of the National Grid and multiple Tier 1 telecommunications connections with BT, it is equipped to offer Tier 4 service levels. Centrinet is already well-advanced on plans to have a large (2,000 square foot) room offering Tier 4 services, while other rooms are already offering Tier 3 services. Other rooms can be dedicated to expanding existing services or other service offerings as market demand indicates.
The company has opted for IBM as its primary datacentre systems supplier, focusing initially on Blade server-based installations running Windows Server or Red Hat Linux. Smith is well aware, however, that IBM's broad product line offers good options on developing services into the future. This could even include the z/10 mainframe if there is a market demand. It has been running a dedicated-server hosting service for a while but has now expanded the scope by offering VMware's virtualisation capabilities as well. This allows it to now add a low cost Virtual Personal Server entry point for smaller businesses, running on shared hardware, from £25/month. The company aims to be offering a fully managed service by next year.
Centrinet is basing its marketing platform for Smartbunker on three pillars: security in the form of both physical and system resilience; service based on the company's track record as a remote data centre management; and its timely arrival as an environmentally-friendly alternative for businesses. Smartbunker itself is an almost 'lights-out' operation that employs some half-dozen staff directly. All the systems administration is managed from the company's Lincoln management facilities.
It is, however, also focusing on the ability of virtualised infrastructures to decouple users and their data from the need to have their own system. Here, the issues come down to those that are fundamental to every client business—what is the level of service capability, how reliable is the provision of that service, and what is the cost?
Smith does acknowledge that there is a possible down side with the concept of virtual servers, namely that users can assume they cost nothing and therefore escalate their demand on the Smartbunker resources. To this end, it offers contracts of one month minimum, in two alternative pricing models. Users can either opt for a specified bandwidth over a non-contended pipe, or a 'burstable' contract where bandwidth limits can be exceeded, at a cost.