The transition to spring is in full bloom. While there may still be cold days and rain showers, the days are certainly longer, with brighter evenings and an abundance of new life is sprouting in the garden and greenhouse. With thoughts of spring, and perhaps still a few Easter eggs, fresh in our minds, one concept that certainly doesn’t ‘spring’ to mind is a data center.
But the association instantly becomes more natural if we use an analogy to draw a comparison between a greenhouse and a data center. The purpose of the average greenhouse is to shield a variety of plants and crops from extreme external factors such as heat, cold or unwanted pests, while providing a stable, warm environment to support optimal growth throughout the year. In a similar way, data centers protect IT systems, their associated components and data from physical and virtual external influences, housing a range of infrastructures inside secure, temperature-controlled, scalable environments.
Just as different plants in a greenhouse have diverse needs in order to thrive, so not all IT systems in a third-party data center facility are the same. They require tailored solutions to maximise efficiency and capabilities for the benefit of the businesses they support. A tomato would not thrive if it were treated like a daffodil – nor would a retail business network if it were being used to support the running of a company in the legal sector for example.
Here are examples of four industry verticals that can use third-party data centers for IT needs, and how their caretakers – the managed service provider (MSP) – can tailor support and services to offer the best possible effect.
Retail runner beans
The very nature of the retail sector means that IT infrastructure must be able to support fluctuations in consumer demand and related sales, particularly around themed and seasonal periods such as Black Friday and Christmas. This is easy to manage from a physical shop floor perspective – extra staff can be hired and stock can be increased – but in the age of the online consumer, from an IT point of view it’s key for retailers to ensure that their systems are able to perform under similar pressures. If servers crash, there is no easy way to make up for this downtime, which can affect income and reputation.
There is however a way for retailers to stay ahead of the game when it comes to IT. According to a recent survey by Martec International, the retail industry in the UK and Ireland experienced substantial growth in both the trust and adoption of cloud-based technologies, citing the lowered risk of loss of sales or inability to trade, and potential loss of customers as central motives. Up to 94% of respondents confirmed that they felt confident using cloud-based systems for business-critical applications, with 77% already outsourcing at least one.
Outsourcing one or more IT functions to a MSP eradicates downtime and buys reassurance and 24/7 expert support, with the benefits felt through tailored server use in a secure environment.
An increasing number of legal firms are recognising the positive impact of utilising third party data centers – typically to help improve the efficiency of their client service delivery.
The nature of the legal sector means that copious amounts of paperwork are generated regularly, requiring careful management and attention to detail. All this ‘admin’ is extremely time-consuming, leaving reduced hours to focus on valuable client service delivery. A technology partner can add remarkable value by managing central IT and communication infrastructure, as well as offering a range of sector-specific services such as business intelligence, productivity and security applications. In this way MSPs can help free up precious time that law firms can allocate to achieving principal business goals.
Public sector primroses
Arguably more than any other vertical, public sector organizations require absolute protection and management of data, a huge feat for any internal IT team operating on strict government IT budgets. It’s therefore easy to recognise the benefits for these organizations to outsource operations to service providers with expertise in cloud-based technology.
For example, MSPs with the relevant public sector expertise can offer customers a service in which more traditional, sensitive applications are moved to an internal, private cloud hosted in a data center, while the more accessible applications are moved to a public cloud vendor. This dual approach promotes zero downtime while providing increased security, with the flexibility to transition to the cloud at a pace that suits them.
Building and construction is a physical business, yet it is one of the most information-intense industries – any large construction process requires extensive exchange of data between managers, suppliers and on-site employees. In today’s information technology era, where fast, efficient output is simply expected, how can businesses in this sector incorporate the right technology at multiple levels to successfully achieve deadlines, reduce cost and ensure quality?
A good starting point can be to identify areas of growth. Where there’s growth there will be a need for systems to support progress, and setting up an IT infrastructure to underpin this expansion – and future needs – makes good business sense.
The next step is to decide if those systems and infrastructure can and should be managed internally, or, taking into consideration the skills, physical capacity and cost needed to manage the network, whether it makes more business sense to outsource to a third party. Larger construction businesses may well opt to turn to a service provider with data center facilities that can provide the relevant IT infrastructure and expertise needed to future proof operations. Utilising this kind of service, particularly for businesses with branches in multiple locations, enables the company to stay connected, without having to worry about systems overload or unwelcome downtime.
For many customers, regardless of business sector, the rationale behind outsourcing IT applications is simple – systems remain fully functional and compliant at all times, less effort and capacity is required internally, and the confidence gained through external, expert support of specific functions can be channelled into achieving business objectives. It’s the best greenhouse a business can ask for.
Dave Ricketts is head of marketing at Six Degrees, a provider of managed services and cloud computing based in the UK