British Telecom has gone a long way from the days Britain’s General Post Office sanctioned installation of the first telephone in the country in the late 1870s. Better known today as simply BT, it is a multinational giant of telecommunications and every flavor of IT infrastructure outsourcing services with about $27 billion in annual revenue.
Naturally, BT has a massive global data center infrastructure and has been investing a lot of money into staying on top of current technology trends. We recently sat down with Jason Cook, CTO of BT Americas, to learn a little bit about the company’s data center strategy and some of the areas of technology it is currently interested in.
Here are some highlights from our chat:
Data Center Knowledge: Do you buy, build, or lease data centers?
Jason Cook: All of the above. We have one of the most diverse IT estates out there. Different countries, different technologies.
DCK: What drives those decisions?
JC: It rely depends on the location. It’s not always frugal to build everything from scratch. In Colombia, we built because we see a longer-term strategic advantage of doing that. In each key region you’ll see that we physically own the data center, and then, in satellite areas, it depends on the business presence, the opportunity that is there.
DCK: What do you look for in a colo provider?
JC: Ability to scale; how fat the network is; how good the power is. You’d be surprised how often these colo sites go off the air. And more and more importantly now, physical security, as well as cybersecurity.
DCK: How big of a role does the colo provider play in security of your customers?
JC: We want to absolutely guarantee all of the obvious vulnerabilities [are addressed]. There’s no point in having sexy cybersecurity if someone can still walk in. We do random spot checks for all of our colos all the time.
DCK: Have you been able to “penetrate” colocation security during random spot checks?
JC: If we are looking for a colo partner, one of the things that we do is a random spot check. And yes, we have run into situations where we’re walking around on the third floor of the data center with the ability to touch stuff. And then we call the manager and say, “Excuse me, but we just walked in.”
DCK: What’s the response usually?
JC: I’ll leave it to your imagination.
DCK: How big is the physical colocation security concern today?
JC: Physical security is still one of the easiest ways to get access to data. With all of the sophistication in the current technology, what’s the point, if someone can walk in and open the door? And that is a pretty large issue. It’s not as if it’s a small factor. Anyone that’s trying to get access to data will try the most obvious things first.
DCK: How does BT differentiate its data center services?
JC: If it’s just a commodity-level piece, there’s nothing that differentiates us. We found with customers though, that perhaps they’re buying our other services, security, or voice services, or network services, and then they discover “Oh, you’re doing this as well?” As long as price-point-wise we’re OK. And we tend to find that we are quite competitive that way.
DCK: What are some of the key current technology initiatives at BT?
JC: We are very embedded [with] SDN. We are part of the NFV forum that kicked off in Europe two years ago. We spent [billions of pounds] on innovation in the last three-four years. A large focus of our investment is in essentially acknowledging that network, data center, your network, is the same thing now.
DCK: Is OpenStack part of those efforts?
JC: OpenStack, you name it. We’re running at the moment a number of proof-of-concepts ourselves and with some key customers across the globe. We’ve got a number of test framework architectures, [including OpenStack]. You’d expect it to be.
DCK: BT is part of Cisco’s One Cloud initiative. How is that going?
JC: I firmly believe something like that will absolutely come out. Whether it will be completely Cisco-flavored, I don’t know. Cisco are no doubt going to be at the heart of it. It’s their future. It’s wait-and-see. There are a number of standards that Cisco said, “These are the standards.” To truly get to utopia of what their vision is, those standards have to be pretty much agreed to by everyone, and not everyone has bought into those standards yet.
DCK: To participate in One Cloud, you have to use Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure technology. Has BT bought into the ACI vision?
BT: Are we completely betting that that’s the only way forward? No. Are we engaged? Are we working with them? Absolutely. It’s standards that really drive things. Sheer scale, diversity of the customers that we work with, you have to be able to cover a number of technologies and standards.