Servers may be a thing of the past in some small and medium sized businesses as companies outsource hosting and management of their application, mail and file servers.
Internet provider Uunet is in the early stages of planning a 'virtual data centre' (VDC) service and is confident that this type of service will be the next big trend in virtual networking.
At present, the costly task of running a central applications server and connecting it to the Internet often falls on one office, even though many different offices around the country or overseas may be connecting to this server.
Uunet hopes that by putting companies' applications on managed servers with dedicated connections to its backbone, companies can better share the cost of maintaining application servers and save money by reducing expenditure on leased bandwidth.
Housing applications such as SAP, online ordering and mail services at a managed data centre, such as Telehouse in London, offers many advantages, according to Karl Meyer, business development at Uunet.
Power back up, high physical security and high capacity access to the Internet are all available using a managed facility, said Meyer. "Also, if there is a problem in the middle of the night, you can send engineers to Telehouse rather than getting up to let them into your offices," he said.
In the case of a company with five offices all running Microsoft Exchange, replication takes hundreds of kilobytes of bandwidth, said Meyer. This could be avoided by running a very high availability Exchange server in the data centre, eliminating the need for replication.
VDCs are best suited to small businesses since larger organisations already have most of the facilities in house, said Andrew Ponsford, senior analyst at Datamonitor.
"There is more of a market for smaller companies that don't have the expertise themselves. Rather than developing it themselves, there could be a case for outsourcing," said Ponsford.
For larger companies, mission critical applications like SAP R/3 have dedicated teams working on them and they would be unlikely to outsource, said Ponsford.
Meyer said likely customers will be small companies with small offices, low IT skills that "don't want servers, but want server based information." Franchise operations that don't have their own IT infrastructure would be well suited to VDC, he said.
Uunet already offers a range of virtual private networking (VPN) services and a VDC service would likely complement these existing services, he said.
Uunet is planning to trial a VDC service in the next two months in conjunction with a technology partner. The service has already been mentioned to one customer which Meyer said responded enthusiastically to the plan.
So does the use of VDCs mean a reduced need for network administrators? "Yes and no," said Meyer. "These boxes still need administering, they still need an IT specialist configuring these boxes sometime," he said.
Best news for network administrators is they would no longer have to charge out of bed at midnight to let the engineers in, he said.
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