AJ Byers is president of BlackIron Data. (Image courtesy BlackIron Data)
AJ Byers is president of BlackIron Data. (Image courtesy BlackIron Data)

Published: October 2nd, 2013

The BlackIron Data brand has literally come out of nowhere to suddenly become a major player in Canada’s cloud computing landscape within the past 12 months.

The brand was born out of Primus Telecommunications in October 2012, but was sold to Rogers Communications for $200 million just six months later. At the time, that consisted of eight data centres in five cities across Canada – Toronto, Ottawa, London, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

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Since then Rogers has continued to grow its data centre network across Canada, adding Pivot Data Centers (operating three colocation facilities in Calgary and Edmonton) and Ottawa-based Granite Networks just last month, spending another $161 million. It’s all in a bid to offer a strong suite of services around Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

At a time when more businesses are choosing to rely on cloud services rather than operate their own data centres, Black Iron is expanding its operations and quickly gaining industry recognition as a major player. In its IaaS MarketScape Report, IDC Canada cited the brand as a major player for the flexibility it offered clients and the control it gave them over cloud resources. Not a bad place to be in a market IDC projects to grow to $250 million by 2016.

BlackIron is also host to Canada’s first Tier III data centre, as defined by the Uptime Institute, with a 50,000 square-foot facility in Markham, Ont. That means it has a greater level of redundancy built in due to providing multiple electrical delivery paths (i.e. it’s less likely to fail). Plus it expects to have four of its data centres meet Tier III standards in the coming months.

ITBusiness.ca conducted a live Google Hangout on Air with BlackIron president AJ Byers. Watch the archive video above or read the edited question and answer text below.

Brian Jackson: BlackIron Data was created by one telecommunications firm and is now operated by another. How has that transition impacted your operations?

AJ Byers: BlackIron is a year old but born out of a data centre services company that’s been around for 15 years. It was sold to Primus in 2004. As BlackIron has grown as an organization, the funding required to build out data centres across the country has also grown, and Rogers is able to provide that. As customers are moving more applications to the cloud, having access to the network Rogers provides, and Rogers is one largest fibre networks in the country will ensure our customers get a good quality of service.

For sure there’s cultural changes. Rogers is one of the largest companies in the country and has a lot more process than BlackIron did at a smaller organization. Although it’s a big company, it’s still a family owned company and it’s a very friendly environment with a great group of people to work with. We’re having a lot of fun.

Rogers is building up its network of data centres across Canada. Why is this an important aspect of Black Iron’s strategy and what are future plans to add to the network?

At the end of September, Rogers purchased Granite which had one data centre out of Ottawa and Pivot Data Centres in Alberta, with three data centres in Edmonton and Calgary and another one under construction in Calgary.  Customers migrate slowly to the cloud by moving to a colocation arrangement and then transitioning. So you still need that underlying data centre services and those colocation services as a primary offering.

The acquisitions were important because our current data centres were getting full. But it also gave us a data centre that we can get certified as a Tier III data centre, like our Markham location, in the Ottawa market. Pivot is one of the largest data centre providers in the Alberta market. It also comes with a complete management team for Rogers to run the data centre market. They bring two facilities we can get ceritified to Tier III and that’s the preeminent certification for multi-tenant data centres around the world today.

Our top product is really computing as a service, so customers can turn up applications same day on a server that sits in our data centre. We’re also helping customers migrate into the cloud space, helping them virtualize their servers and make more efficient use of computer resources.

We consider cloud services to be virtualized computing resources that customers can use as they need to run their applications.
You offer colocation services and other hosting at many Canadian locations. How important a factor are you finding being located on Canadian soil in terms of your clients concerns?

We’re finding it very important and being located in multiple geographic regions is very important. In the early days of data centres we found a lot of companies were opening up one centralized location and expecting customers to move from across the country or to a new country to host their infrastructure. But what we found was that customers still like their infrastructure close to them. We built a data centre in every province so that customers could move their infrastructure locally into a facility that would provide 100 per cent up time.

With all the recent security issues around access to data brought up very relevantly in the U.S., we’re finding that customers are very much looking to maintain data in Canada. A lot of the U.S. data providers that used to host that dat in the U.S. are now having to bring that back to Canada and are looking for data and cloud providers to host that data in the Canadian market.

Are you talking about the National Security Agency’s PRISM and surveillance programs that have come to light recently? Is that what your customers are saying they are concerned about?

Absolutely they are concerned about it. I’d say government and larger enterprises are absolutely saying they’re concerned about the security of their data when it leaves the country and looking to host their data on Canadian soil.

There’s a lot of customers who are asking us to move data back into Canada. In many cases we’re dealing with the American company that is looking for help to move data back into Canada, just from a purely hosting perspective. We’re also seeing a big movement from Europe and China – they find Canada a much better country to work with from a taxation and a legal perspective for hosting infrastructure.

People are still people, and as much as technology can claim to solve a number of problems, there’s still times when you need to drive over to the data centre to deal with something locally. Or one of the challenges we’re seeing today is the ability to put your data in the cloud but no ability to talk with people locally about what they are doing with your data.

You operate Canada’s first Tier III data centre and also plan to upgrade others to the same level. For those of us not versed in the tiering designations of data centres, what does that mean and what type of client needs this type of service?

Tiering isn’t an exact science but it gives customers comfort about the capabilities of a company to provide uptime.

Tier I just means I have one of anything. I have a single UPS, there’s a single wire running between you and that UPS, there’s a single air conditioner, there’s a single generator. So if any one of those components go down, you’re affected.

Tier II adds redundancy to the components. I’ll have redundant air conditioner, redundant UPS, and redundant generator, it’s all connected through a single distribution architecture. So if components fail you’re protected, but if distribution fails you’re not covered.

Tier III adds the concept of concurrent maintainability. That means you can maintain any element in the infrastructure and not impact the customers. You need to have completely redundant distribution, so if one wire fails you can switch over to another wire. You have full redundancy of the infrastrucuture

Tier IV adds fault tolerance, so you take that Tier III site and make it self-healing so there’s automation in the facility. It also has compartmentalization.

Our Markham data centre is we have is certified as Tier III and we also added the fault tolerance of Tier IV to that. But we didn’t implement compartmentalization, we can’t say we’re Tier IV. But what that effectively does is guarantee 100 per cent uptime of the infrastructure for the customers. No manual intervention is required, there’s automatic fail over.

 

 

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