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AT&T wants to run your data center

Or at least your fake data center

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

In a bad economy, any job that can be turned into a service is at risk. That's why system administrators should be a little worried, with so many companies offering remote IT management services to IT shops. This week, telecom giant AT&T threw its hat into the ring with its own remote infrastructure management service.

Thanks to a bunch of acquisitions, AT&T has offered application hosting services and application management services and sold networking services for quite a while. And with the RIM (remote infrastructure management) service announced this week, AT&T is leveraging the expertise it has running some of the largest data centers in the world, deploying its tools and know-how into data centers owned by third parties.

AT&T might be a late-comer to RIM, but in a bad economy with companies of all sizes trying to trim IT costs, the telecom company clearly wants to get its fingers in what Gartner reckons was a nearly $19bn pie in 2008. According to a recent Gartner report published last August - An Overview of the Remote Infrastructure Services Market - close to 70 per cent of North American companies are expected to have remote infrastructure management contracts on at least some of their IT gear by 2012. It might be a good time to send a resume to service providers if you are a sysadmin.

For now, the RIM service is only available in the United States, but the company says that it will offer it outside of the States on a case-by-case basis until it is formally launched globally.

AT&T is offering to design, deploy, and maintain the server, storage, and networking gear at a customer site, providing three levels of service with three different price bands. The deals also have provisions to have AT&T babysit the gear and send in technicians to repair or upgrade gear, and the AT&T BusinessDirector portal that enterprise customers use to monitor their AT&T managed services has been tweaked so it can see servers and storage.

If you don't currently use that tool, you get another one called AT&T Visualizer, which does the same function. You can even leave capacity planning and change management to AT&T. And for customers who want to use a mix of on-site and outsourced data centers, the RIM service can be mixed with hosting services from AT&T or another third-party provider.

AT&T is not just interested in running your data center. Last August, as part of a $1bn investment in its global computing network last year, the company announced a utility-style computing platform called Synaptic Hosting, which is based on technology created by USinternetworking. This virtual server and storage hosting is currently offered from five AT&T data centers in New Jersey, California, Maryland, Holland, and Singapore. (AT&T has another 38 regional data centers that do traditional outsourcing of applications behalf of clients).

Last December, Oracle partnered with AT&T to deliver its PeopleSoft payroll and payroll tax applications as a virtual hosted platform to its customers. The Synaptic Hosting utility offering - and AT&T doesn't use, much less overuse, the word "cloud" thankfully - has service level agreements that deliver between 99.5 and 99.9 per cent reliability, with tech support response times ranging from 15 to 60 minutes. How this compares to real data centers is not clear, but you would expect more nines than that for some applications, while others surely can do with these SLAs.

AT&T did not divulge pricing on the Remote Infrastructure Management or Synaptic Hosting services. And as I have said many times before, there ought to be a law against that. But you can expect more than a few companies looking to cut costs are going to be looking at remote management and utility computing as alternatives to paying for their own data centers and the staff to run it. ®

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