IT Life: Going Nuts For The Network
Real cloud data centres need agile, flexible and fast networks, says David Barker of 4D Data Centres
David Barker set up 4D in 1999 , when he was 14. It started life as a domain registration and hosting business. The firm started out with £30 and turned over £3000 in its first year, which rose to £36,500 by 2002/3.
In 2002, at 17, David left school to go full time, and 4D branched out into hosting, offering dedicated servers and subleasing space in Docklands and Heathrow for larger clients.
With angel investment of £570k, 4D bought its own data centre in Byfleet, Surrey in 2007. It has now had investment of £2.1 million, and employs 25 staff.
Barker is conscious of the energy-guzzling reputation of data centres. TechWeekEurope first encountered him when 4D retrofitted an evaporative cooling system (also referred to as adiabatic cooling) to its Byfleet data centre in 2011, reducing its PUE (power usage effectiveness) to an enviable 1.14.
What has been your favourite project so far?
Last year, my favourite project would have been evaporative cooling. It is an impressive part of our data centre. All the cooling providers offering units with some sort of adiabatic cooling, but most of them are for new data centres, not for retrofitting.
But my favourite project now is the network upgrade we completed in November. It was a major project to select providers, pick hardware, and decide what the network looked like. We currently have 60Gbps, but the hardware has the potential to scale much higher, to hundreds of Gigabits.
There’s an interesting trend in the connectivity market. The amount of space has shifted about to support things like iPlayer, but there has been an exponential growth in network connectivity. We connect to four POPs (points of presence) and our network has a new Cisco ASR (Aggregation Services Router). We already had our own dark fibre between Byfleet and London. We can now use ADSL, fibre to the cabinet and leased line products for clients.
Without a network, the cloud doesn’t work. Too many people stick something on Amazon Web Services to replace an office system, but find out that eight to 10Mbps ADSL isn’t enough. You need 10-100 Mbps business quality lines for a lot of things.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
I was doing the same stuff – but there was a lot more server admin and operating systems work. Ten years ago we were upgrading Windows 2000 servers to Windows 2003. We were selling ADSL in a slightly different format, and running servers rather than a full data centre. There was a lot less virtualisation.
Cloud computing was around at the time, under a different name. People called it ASPs (application service providers), and between 2000 and 2004 there was a big rise in ASP hosting. The trouble was the technology wasn’t there to offer scalable networks, so the connectivity let people down.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
We will be more focused on networks and storage. I can see an explosion in storage over the next ten years, along with the problems that will bring. Our data centre could be 70-80 percent storage and the the remainder will be servers – now it is the other way around.
There will be an increase in virtualisation which will allow people to reduce the number of physical servers. Data will be the big thing, and networking will be affected by it. There will be more mobile data, and more offices will move to thin client style computing. Desktops will be replaced by tablets, with a docking station at work. You will pick up your tablet and walk away, and still have all the same data. All data will be centralised, and there will be no servers in the office.
Who’s your tech hero?
Tim Berners-Lee. He got the World Wide Web working, without which none of us would be in the job we are in. I also respect Felix Baumgartner – who got the free-fall record. He is a tech hero from the past year.
Who’s your tech villain?
I don’t want to name a person. The Snooper’s Charter is dangerous and a true villain. If you push me to name a person. I would say Steve Jobs. He got millions of people to buy into the idea that you need a new piece of technology with relatively few updates. He made people happy to have an upgrade without any major developments. There have been seven different versions of the iPhone without much change – and people went out and bought them in their millions.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
My Tassimo coffee machine is incredibly easy to use. I have the basic model, the C20. You buy the coffee you want, in cartridges, say espresso, cappuccino or mocha, put the capsule in and it reads the barcode and gives you the coffee you want.
What is your budget outlook?
The company is growing, so we have room to grow for the future technology that we want to deploy. We are looking to offer infrastructure as a service (IaaS) early in 2013, in March or April. This will allow us to offer cloud at an infrastructure level – it is almost colocation as a service. Outside of data centres, unfortunately, IT budgets are flat or being cut. It is easier to outsource than to run things in-house
Apart from your own, which companies do you admire most and why?
Berkshrire Hathaway – Warren Buffett’s company. They have a culture in how they manage and run the business, and it works well. I also like Virgin: their brand is so strong they can do anything with it. Finally, I like Dennis Publishing: I grew up reading their magazines and Felix Dennis is a bit of a character [Surely not IT/PC Pro?! - ed].
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Looking at whether to run a cloud platform internally or whether to outsource it. Companies have to decide if the IT department will become a mini service provider within the business, running the hardware and selling services, or whether they outsource the underlying technology and manage the service on top of it. It comes down to whether the company wants to own the asset, or are happy to have another company run it. People need to pick a plan that is suitable for them.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Most people are going for some sort of cloud-based environment, and almost everyone should look at virtualisation in some form or another. In the next five years the industry needs to come up with a definition of cloud – but they may just rename it as something else!
What did you want to be when you were a child?
An astronaut. For a while I wanted to be in charge of a submarine, and a long way back I wanted to be Fireman Sam.
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