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Data center outsourcer picks up graveyard shift

Outsourcing IT services, including data center management, is a growing trend, though some are hesitant to make the jump.

Tim Prime, facilities director at Freddie Mac in McLean, Va., said that staffing people around the clock to manage the data center was hurting morale.

Prime was having employees work their normal day and then return at 9 p.m. to work an overtime shift at night. Meanwhile, trying to hire new employees specifically for the night shift was a hassle. Turnaround was slow with the human resources department, with Prime saying that in-house recruiters didn't know what to look for in potential staffers.

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"It was wearing out the guys quite a bit," Prime said.

So Freddie Mac brought in a third-party company, Fairfax, Va.-based Lee Technologies, about four years ago to manage the facility during nights and weekends. The company oversees the physical data center, which has 66,000 square feet of raised floor, as well as the equipment inside. It can also deal with third-party vendors that need to get into the building to maintain items such as the UPS system.

Outsourcing IT services, including data center management, are a growing market. In a November 2005 report, IDC predicted that outsourced IT services would grow by 33% in five years, from $84.6 billion in 2004 to $112.5 billion in 2009. In the United States, IT outsourcing brings in about $33.8 billion, according to IDC, and is expected to grow at about 4% a year.

Users that outsource their data center management cite similar benefits to Prime: peace of mind, coverage during off-hours, and not having to hire employees of their own. As Gary Perkins, the senior facilities manager at Lockheed Martin at the Pentagon said, "The hiring process is a very convoluted process. In a couple weeks we needed to staff the plant. We couldn't do it through the Lockheed Martin hiring process."

Yet outsourcing of data center management does have its detractors, and they have reasons of their own, including the potential cost and loss of control by ceding the process to someone outside the company.

About three-and-a-half years ago, the city of Orlando delved into a study to see if outsourcing management of the data center could be another way to save money. The city was dealing with difficult economic times, having just fired an approximate 10% of its workforce, and was looking for ways to cut back further.

"Quite frankly it didn't make sense to outsource it," John Matelski, chief security officer and deputy CIO for the city, said. "The bottom line was that it was too costly and there was a lot of historical knowledge of the servers and systems on staff. It just makes much more sense and is more economical to keep it in house."

The city's current IT staff of 84 employees, which includes 11 operations staff people, works just fine, Matelski said.

Move, Inc. was one step away from signing an outsourcing contract in July 2005. Vincent Stephens, vice president of technology operations for the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company, said they researched the possibility of hosting their data center at a collocation facility, a different model of a data center that involves outsourcing of equipment as well as management. For Move, it looked to be a cost-effective solution, but the company was still wary of employing it for their primary operations.

"It ended up being more of a control issue," Stephens said. "We were more concerned about control of the building and the ownership issue -- if it changed hands, what the repercussions of that were."

The company hasn't discounted the possibility of collocation for subsites, but Stephens said: "We just don't want it as our primary or secondary model."

When Tom Joseph took over as facilities manager for Time Warner Cable in Herndon, Va., Lee Technologies was already providing some outsourcing services. He has no qualms about giving the company some control over the data center in exchange for peace of mind and around-the-clock support.

Lee monitors all of the equipment at the Time Warner data center, which has about 13,000 square feet of raised floor, including about 250 rack servers from Sun Microsystems and Cisco and power equipment such as PDUs and UPS systems from Liebert. Joseph said that Lee has national contracts with some vendors that enable Time Warner to get some better costs, and the off-hours support is invaluable.

"If a machine goes down, I get beeped and so do they," he said. "So I get covered right away."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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