The Bank of Montreal Thursday said it is planning to open a data centre in Barrie, Ont., next year as a powerful alternative back-up site to pre-existing facilities in Toronto.

The data centre, due to open in June 2006, will be built

on 24 acres of land and be known as the BMO Computer Centre.

Its establishment is part of a BMO program called “operational resiliency,” said Mark Saunders, the bank’s senior vice-president of enterprise infrastructure, and will act as a real-time fail-safe for data that’s currently housed in Willowdale and Scarborough facilities in the Toronto area.

BMO operates several data centres in Canada and one in Chicago, but the Barrie facility will act as mission control for the organization. Other sites will be scaled back, said Saunders, except for the Scarborough data centre, which will be used in tandem with Barrie.

“With the type of disasters that we’ve seen over the last number of years, we wanted to move to a more split-processing site,” said Saunders. Workloads from incoming Internet traffic and data transactions will be load-balanced between Scarborough and Barrie. “In the event that we lost one of those facilities, we would be able to serve those customers on a redundant basis from the other facility. It’s increasing our operational resiliency capability,” he added.

Barrie was chosen as the site of operations because it is far enough away from Toronto that it would probably be out of range of any disaster that struck the city. The distance was important, said Saunders.

“The Willowdale and Scarborough locations don’t have a lot of distance between them. When we made that decision 25 or 30 years ago, we were more concerned about a fire or a flood or some kind of a localized outage,” he said. “Having a facility that was six or 10 km away was probably fine then. But when you have the kinds of disasters that we’ve seen in North American over the last five years . . . getting increased separation is something that’s of importance for us.”

But Barrie is also close enough to Toronto to allow for effective data backup, he said, since 100 km is the threshold for real-time data replication technology to work over a fibre-optic network.

Eventually those proximity limitations will disappear, said Alan Freedman, analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. “I think that’s something that the networking vendors are looking at,” he said. “ I’m sure that the distances are going to get farther and farther (apart) and the capabilities are going to increase. It’s going to be less of a factor in the future.”

The Barrie centre will be staffed with an initial complement of 120, which will mostly be BMO employees from other data centres. The centre is capable of holding approximately 500 employees, said Saunders, and a short-term goal will be to reach 250. Ideally, employees in the Barrie centre will also be able handle operations in Scarborough and vice-versa.

The data centre will be 325,000 sq.ft, with 60,000 sq. ft. of raised floor space to house equipment. Saunders said BMO has no interest in renting out unused space. “Before we made this decision, we looked at a number of different alternatives as to whether we would want to do any (co-location) . . . and we decided we didn’t. This facility is purely for the Bank of Montreal,” he said.

The centre should be sufficient for BMO’s data needs for at least the next decade, he said. If necessary, extensions can be added to the data centre and it was designed with that in mind.

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