When the American Red Cross talks about mission-critical systems, it's referring to the blood supply that helps save lives. The non-profit organization manages 40% of the U.S.'s blood supply, so stability, reliability and tight security are of paramount concern, says DeWayne Bell, vice president of IT infrastructure and engineering.
With some 25,000 employees and volunteers at about 500 locations around the country, the Red Cross used to manage two data centers, but "we found out that more and more of the enterprise systems we deployed needed higher availability, 24/7 support, and redundancy and resiliency," says Bell.
"We didn't have the capability any more to manage the infrastructure," Bell says, and yet the organization did not feel comfortable moving to a public cloud environment because of security concerns.
Seeking a "more efficient data center," the Red Cross outsourced its data center operations to CSC in 2007 and moved to Unisys in 2012 because of lower costs, according to Bell. Because the organization didn't have a large IT staff, he says it didn't make sense to build an updated, consolidated data center that was highly secure and then try to manage it in-house. The five-year contract with Unisys is valued at over $80 million, and includes on-site services and help desk support, according to the vendor.
For apps that are not as critical to the business, such as email, the Red Cross is using cloud software including Microsoft Office 365. "If email goes down, our business functions won't stop. But for things that could stop the business, we keep those systems managed and hosted at Unisys," Bell explains.
The Red Cross is in good company. As organizations look to modernize their IT infrastructure, data center choices are expanding. Cloud, colocation, modular, outsourcing, virtualization and more efficient servers are all vying for your attention, and figuring out the right direction is fraught with challenges, to say the least. And even after you make a decision, you need to revisit it every now and again in light of shifting business needs and new technology choices, as Facebook did with its recent implementation of a more modular network in its Iowa data center.
More companies are opting to move away from traditional data centers with rows and racks of servers because there are a number of issues to contend with in a conventional data center model, including buying your own equipment, figuring out a floor plan, installing it, testing it and maintaining it, experts say. The number of data centers worldwide will peak at 8.6 million in 2017 and then begin to decline slowly, IDC predicts, although the amount of total data center space will continue to grow as mega-data centers replace smaller ones.
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