Data Center Completes CPR

June 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Shortly after Computer Products & Resources Inc. (CPR) moved into its new home at 1595 Galbraith Ave. SE, management began pining for the technology field’s version of an in-ground pool: a full-sized data center.

Five years later, CPR finally has its data center, and not a moment too soon.

At a cost of roughly $1 million, the 5,000-square-foot facility will serve as a foundation for continued growth in a pair of key service offerings.

CPR President Jenny Fanning expects the data center business segment alone to double over the next two years. Currently, it comprises 20 percent of the firm’s service revenue.

“We started with a small data center,” said Fanning. “We didn’t know if the market here could bear the service.”

CPR tiptoed into the market five years ago, converting its technology showcase into a small data center.

“This would have been just fine for our needs then,” said Jeff Tatreau, CPR director of technology. “But then the ASP trend started.”

The market embraced the Applied Service Provider model, in which functions from commerce to time clocks are performed remotely through the Internet, the benefit being that the user does not have to install a server onsite. The application, Web site, or database is hosted by a third-party provider, which assumes all the responsibilities of housing, cooling and protecting the hardware.

In the wake of 9-11, another trend emerged that quickly altered CPR’s service offerings. Coupled with increased regulatory scrutiny in several fields, many companies have recognized the importance of disaster recovery (DR) in a risk management strategy.

No longer sufficient to protect technology from attack, contingency plans and backups have become equally important. Many are seeking out business continuation sites — a fallback point that the business can operate from if something were to happen to the main facility.

Recognizing that need, CPR developed a DR competency. No three-alarm fire or tornado was necessary to test the service — just a leaky roof. The precipitation shorted out a client’s routers and blacked out communications at its primary site.

The client set up shop at CPR’s facilities, using a training room as a business continuation site. Since the system was hosted at CPR, almost no data was lost, and with its IP telephone system, calls to the blacked-out site were rerouted to the CPR facilities.

“They call, you answer, and they don’t know your facility is a pile of ashes somewhere,” Tatreau said.

CPR is able to monitor all of its hosted systems’ offsite components remotely, so it was aware of the crisis before the client even picked up the phone. Engineers were already working to recover the site before its workers were out the door.

Historically, most of CPR’s data center clients have been of the collocation variety, with networks managed and collocated at CPR. DR, however, has opened up new opportunities for enterprise customers with data centers onsite.

These large businesses were seeking offsite backup and recovery strategies. They were placing redundant servers in offsite data centers, most of those outside the region, which replicated the data of the primary system.

Smaller businesses were seeking the same service, although they could ill afford to duplicate infrastructure. Manufacturers do have options available for these companies, including one buy-in program that will produce a replacement server in 24 hours if necessary. For that scenario, companies only need a space to house the server.

“Redundancy is a pretty costly model. Here you don’t have to have redundant hardware,” Tatreau said. “You just have to have the space. It’s trying to meet the needs of smaller, medium customers.”

With the newfound demand — industry estimates peg annual data center growth to continue at 40 percent — CPR’s old data center was fast approaching capacity.

“We had wanted to make sure the market would be there before we made the capital investment,” Tatreau said. “Now space was our only limitation.”

Plans for the new data center were rounding out when the demise of a competitor brought five additional racks of equipment into the old data center.

“We pretty much exceeded the capacity of room,” Tatreau said. “The data center is the piece we didn’t have and it was eliminating us from helping larger customers.”

Upon finishing the facility, one enterprise customer quickly moved in, leasing 1,000 square feet of space as a continuation site without the redundant servers.

Another 1,000 square feet is earmarked to other clients for that same purpose. Collocated customers occupy roughly 2,000 square feet. The facility could be expanded to include an additional 2,000 to 3,000 square feet.

“We’ve got customers here locally who have gone to Chicago or further away, to the national data centers,” Tatreau said. “They are saying it’s too expensive, too far, and they have limited control. They weren’t getting the service they were promised.    

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