Cloud computing - implications for bricks and mortar
This article was included in the spring 2011 issue of Informer - the real estate newsletter.
"Cloud computing" is a buzz word you have probably heard a great deal in the last few months and will doubtless hear many times over the years ahead. Put simply, it is a way for businesses to maximise their IT budgets by either making the best use of their existing resources, or only buying resources they actually need. But what does cloud computing have to do with bricks and mortar? The answer is that the servers which store/process the data have to physically reside somewhere.
What is The Cloud?
The term "cloud computing" is usually used in two senses:
- The public cloud. Data processing and/or storage facilities that are offered by off-site, third party providers on an "as required" basis. This means that users only pay for the processing power or storage they need at the time they need it, so they do not overspend on unnecessary capacity.
- The private cloud. Making the best use of existing computing facilities, by pooling them to maximise utilisation. As a result, it may be able to decommission old and unreliable equipment and reduce its electricity and other overheads by simply having less IT equipment.
How does this affect real estate?
Moving over to a private cloud structure is probably less of a challenge to a facilities manager than using the public cloud. The challenges that a business is likely to face include making sure that, if IT is centralised in one or more server rooms, the property can handle such a concentration of equipment. IT equipment is still a great producer of waste heat which needs to be disposed of in order to keep the equipment running and to make sure the rest of the property does not become too warm. There is currently only one practical solution to this problem; ensuring a plentiful supply of cold air to the servers and extracting the hot air.
The public cloud presents a very different challenge - 100% data connection up time. If business-critical data processing and storage are off-site, then it is essential to have access to that facility. Redundancy and resilience are the watchwords of the facilities manager who needs to try and safeguard against the antics of the Friday afternoon JCB driver. A simple solution might be using multiple telecoms providers. However, this only helps if the cables are run along different ducts. At this point, many clients bring in the assistance of a telecoms specialist to assist in contingency planning.
A reconfiguration of IT infrastructure brings with it a number of potential headaches, more so for the tenant occupier.
All parties will need to consider:
- Is new air conditioning equipment needed? If so, must this be placed externally for which planning consent may be required.
- Can the property physically take a concentration of IT equipment? Is a structural surveyor needed to advise?
- Where will the telecoms cables enter the property? Can this be along completely different routes?
- Who can offer the occupier the telecoms services and, perhaps more importantly, in what timeframe?
- Does the occupier need a non-cable based backup such as mobile broadband or Wimax?
For the tenant occupier there are likely to be additional issues such as:
- Are any works being conducted to the property for which landlord’s consent will be needed?
- If the cabling is coming into a central telecoms room, is this sufficiently resilient?
- Are rights needed for telecoms operators to run cables into the building and to the property? If so, will the landlord grant these rights?
- If the landlord insists that the tenant dismantles all the infrastructure at the end of the lease, does this make the project cost effective?
As a result of:
- more businesses embracing the potential for e-commerce,
- IT budgets continuing to be cut to the bone, and
- the realisation that businesses need to take effective measures to secure their business data and not just physical assets,
cloud computing is set to remain on the scene for many years to come. What needs to be remembered is that there is always a physical dimension to accommodating the cloud which needs to be borne in mind as part of the project planning process.