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Anatomy of a Cyprus data centre

page 6
Michael Ioannou is Chief Information Officer at Bolton Technologies.

“The problem in Cyprus is that businesses don’t trust proven technologies like ours. They have a superstitious fear of letting an external company manage their data. It doesn’t matter what sector you are working with; for top management it’s nearly always the same. They just don’t understand the value, and they don’t trust it. They have the need to see and feel their own servers, with the hardware right in their own offices, they have to have total control of it all. Despite the increased cost.” Michael Ioannou is Chief Information Officer at Bolton Technologies. Ioannou has been in the IT industry for about 15 years.

“I studied computer science and then did my masters in cybersecurity, after which I focused on my career. After creating Bolton Technologies as an IT Services company to clients in Cyprus, we saw that data centres were trending: clients had a need for colocation, disaster recovery and hosting services. We were able to take advantage of our newly constructed business centre building, with one floor allocated to a data centre and to offer these cloud services to clients.

“Bolton Technologies also offers generic IT services to clients, like ongoing maintenance, and support, IT Implementations, business solutions and many more. The addition of the data centre services that are ongoing for the past two years has provided us with new revenue streams and interest from clients abroad.

The company offers three categories of services through the data centre. Colocation services, in which companies bring their own servers to the data centre for hosting them, hosting and Cloud solutions such as Infrastructure as a Service, Webhosting and email hosting.

“Our data centre infrastructure was built with the latest state-of-the-art technology based with the  Tier III requirements that clients require: Networking and power supply fully redundant to ensure fault-tolerant of 99,982% uptime.”

“Building the data centre with the Tier III requirements ensures the uptime of the services offered to clients, meaning that the possibility of service downtime is extremely reduced. This also ensures that the servers are always available to the client. “Security is an essential priority. Starting from the building’s physical security which provides access controls and a mantrap to enter the data room – similar to the two-door entry you often see at banks.

Additionally, CCTV is installed to cover all angles of the building and is supplemented by burglar alarms and motion detectors. Inside the data centre, to assure security from any physical disaster, we have implemented fire detection equipment and extinguishers that do not harm the hardware, temperature monitoring, water leakage and humidity detectors. We even located our data centre on the first floor to avoid danger of floods, and provide under-floor monitors that detect any leakage.”

Data centres require vast amounts of electric power, and they have to be able to manage all the heat that is generated by the servers. Bolton Technologies has its own solutions.
“The main source of electric power is from the Electricity Authority of Cyprus. But we have redundant sources of power as well. We have two different generators, so in case one fails, the other one will work. And each generator provides enough power for four days of operation.”

“What’s more, all the connections are duplicated. Should a cable fail, there is another to perform the same function. We can avoid almost any potential disruption in this way. And we are installing solar panels to include more renewable energy in the mix.”

There is also a special system to manage heat.

“We use a   hot aisle/cold aisle system. This is a lay-out design for server racks and other computing equipment. The goal of a hot aisle/ cold aisle configuration is to conserve energy and lower cooling costs by managing airflow.

“In its simplest form, hot aisle/cold aisle data centre design involves lining up server racks in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air exhausts facing the other. The rows composed of rack fronts are called cold aisles. Typically, cold aisles face air conditioner output ducts. The rows the heated exhausts pour into are called hot aisles. Typically, hot aisles face air conditioner return ducts.

“A containment system can be used to isolate hot aisles and cold aisles from each other and prevent hot and cold air from mixing. Today, we use a plenum that combines containment with variable fan drives to prevent cold air and hot air from mixing.”

What about data security?
“Complementing Bolton Technologies with our cybersecurity company based in Switzerland, Boltonshield  offers defensive and offensive cybersecurity services, We are adding value to the data centre to be more cybersecurity-oriented through these services.

“Through the cybersecurity services, we offer managed security services where we monitor the whole infrastructure for any malicious events with the assistance of AI, and alert the clients for these potential threats or as- sist in the mitigation and response.”

Bolton Technologies doesn’t have the largest data centre in Cyprus, but it does host services for large corporates who seek a carefully tailor-made approach with added-value cybersecurity such as encryption.

“We’re not the biggest: Our approach is client oriented. We are not marketing aggressively. We work only with some niche clients, providing tailor-made services with value-added services on cybersecurity.

“There was never any intention to create a massive data centre, like Microsoft, where clients just register online and fill out a  form. It’s the personal approach with clients that matters for us, finding the solution that fits client needs.  We offer, for example, encrypted servers. This assures the confidentiality that the client requires. When we offer virtual machines, we give clients encryption keys, so that no one, including us, can access them. This differentiates us from other data centres in Cyprus.”

By focusing on this specific clientele, Bolton Technologies is also able to keep pricing quite competitive. This is important because demand is ramping up.

“I think now, after Covid, there’s an increasing need for data centres, because of the growth of remote work. There is a need for a centralised location, because people work- ing from home are spread out all over the country, all over the world. Companies having remote offices around the globe need to have their data centralised. They need to add value, added security features to control the remote workers as well.

“The introduction of 5G in Cyprus can make it even easier for a company to work with a data centre instead of having everything locally and maintain a server room. With the help of 5G, the connection will be even faster and will feel like you’re all right there on the same network.”

The financial benefit to the client is also considerable, as Ioannou points out.

“There are many cost benefits for the client.  First of all, there are no downtime losses as almost 100 per cent uptime is guaranteed. Clients always have their servers up-to-date, and all the infrastructure up-to-date, all of it upgraded automatically. And there is no initial investment.

Clients pay a monthly base subscription or a yearly base subscription. So in that way, they avoid any initial investment, and there are no maintenance payments, no costs for support for the servers and no extras for their business continuity plan. So they will need to also implement generators, redundant power sources, power net- works, power cables, redundant networking. So they need to build an infrastructure behind those servers in order to properly host their own infrastructure.

“And after they’ve made all this investment, within four years it will be obsolete and need replacing.”

Clients can also choose between hosting online or on the actual servers. But in Cyprus, it’s very difficult for businesses to make the decision to store data externally.

“The problem in Cyprus
is that businesses don’t trust proven technologies like ours. They have a superstitious fear of letting an external company manage their data. It doesn’t matter what sector you are working with; for top management, it’s nearly always the same. They just don’t understand the value, and they don’t trust it. They have the need to see and feel their own servers, with the hardware right in their own offices, they have to have total control of it all. Despite the increased cost.”

Nor are many potential clients convinced by all the added value that a data cen- tre provider can offer.

“They often simply do not understand at first, and then they suffer a cyber attack on their servers, or they start spending a lot on maintenance, and gradually the sense of it all gets through to them – the penny drops,” Ioannou jokes.

“We are patient, and we work to educate management. It’s often with the help of the IT department which sees the logic of data centres, so that management can take a more cost-and-value based view. It’s the IT department that understands how servers need to be patched, and how technology has to be replaced when it becomes obsolete, and why cybersecurity is critical today. But we help the IT department to express the business case as well.”

Ioannou has great faith, despite everything, in the future development of the data centre industry in Cyprus. “As Cyprus becomes a tech hub, there will be a greater percentage of local managers with experience of data centres or cloud. It’s inevitable. The whole industry is moving in that direction, the need for data storage is growing at exponential rates, so soon  Cyprus will see great progress in this area,” he concludes.

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