Balancing core competencies and cost with colocation data centers for disaster recovery

An automotive repair manual and software publisher found a colocation at a SunGard data center for load balancing and disaster recovery the right mix of managed service and do-it-yourself.

A SunGard colocation customer says that despite the increasing popularity of completely outsourced or cloud disaster recovery services, deploying his own equipment in a SunGard colocation data center has proven the right mix of hosted and do-it-yourself disaster recovery (DR) and data center load-balancing for his company.

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The company, Poway, Calif.-based Mitchell Repair Information Company LLC or Mitchell 1, a Snap-On company, specializes in automotive repair manuals and software management systems for automotive repair shops. In addition to its online resources and software for mechanics, it also staffs a 50-person call center with expert technicians as a resource for customers who have questions about repairs.

About four years ago, according to Mark Zecca, senior director of information technology, the company began a relationship with SunGard Availability Services to place servers and NetApp Inc. storage gear owned by Mitchell 1 at one of SunGard's data centers in Scottsdale, Ariz. Today, four NetApp FAS2040 disk arrays replicate data from remote offices to a 100 TB FAS 3160 array at its main data center, where the remote office disk arrays are also managed remotely. All told, the organization has between 90 TB and 100 TB of data. SunGard is also contracted to provide facilities for call center employees in the event of a primary site outage.

While 100 TB is no small amount of data, at 350 employees, 200 of which are sales reps spread around North America, the organization considers itself a small- to-medium-sized business (SMB), Zecca said. "Our remote offices weren't going to cut it to host all our data from our 3,000 square foot data center at headquarters for disaster recovery," he added. "Maybe two of them even have the right kind of air conditioning."

At the same time, purchasing an entire second data center "just to have something sitting waiting" in case of a disaster was not palatable to the organization. "As a smaller business, we can't afford to set up that amount of software and networking hardware to support something so that, one day on Tuesday when the moon is full, there might be an outage, and then we get to use this $300,000 to $400,000 worth of equipment."

Four years ago, cloud-based disaster recovery had yet to become an industry buzzword, but wholly managed disaster recovery services were available at the time. Today, outsourcing management of data replication and storage to a service provider completely for disaster recovery is also seen as having cost benefits, but Zecca said the business is unwilling let go of that part of IT's role.

"It all depends on what your core competencies are," Zecca said. "For us, our call center is important, and our ability to provide information to our customers quickly through telephony and storage connectivity, are our core competencies."

Small businesses struggle to get best customer service from collocation providers

Still, in Zecca's view, it can be difficult as a relatively small business to get the best customer service from colocation providers; he said he went with SunGard because of its Information Availability for Small and Midsize Business Program. "We're not AT&T or American Airlines," he said. "But SunGard will work closely with us."

That said, there are some aspects of SunGard's pricing Zecca said are better suited to larger enterprises with deeper pockets. In the last year, he said, SunGard changed billing on power distribution units (PDUs) from a usage basis to a per-device basis. "So if I have to add a PDU, I have to pay an extra $570 a month for that, instead of just paying for the equipment once and then whatever the total power usage is for the rack," Zecca said. "If I were a big company, that amount of money would be a drop in the bucket, but SMBs like me will begin to question that."

"Under specific circumstance's to help our customers better manage their power costs, SunGard Availability Services expanded its pricing practices from circuit-based pricing to KW-based," said Rahul Bakshi, vice president, managed services strategy and solution design at SunGard Availability Services. "This makes it easier for some customers to manage the number of circuits they provision and better utilize their KW power use."

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