Manitoba will soon have its own place in the cloud.
MTS and its subsidiary EPIC Information Solutions are breaking ground today on a $53-million data centre and cloud computing facility company officials believe will service plenty of unmet demand in the information-technology business in the province.
The 64,000-square-foot centre on Waverley Street north of Chevrier Boulevard will provide options for Manitoba's IT users to co-locate their own servers in a highly secure managed facility or use the centre's third-party host-management services.
"The line between telecommunications and IT services is blurring more and more," said Pierre Blouin, the CEO of MTS. "We saw this was an area that was not really well-served in Manitoba -- or in the rest of Canada, for that matter. We decided to make the investment to build a unique commercial data centre in Manitoba."
The decision to build the first facility of its kind in Manitoba -- which Blouin said could become the driver for hundreds of millions of dollars in business for the company -- started last year when MTS acquired EPIC, a local high-growth IT service company. EPIC will run the new facility.
David Reid, EPIC's president, said his company has been operating small-business cloud services for a few years, building its capacity and becoming ready to operate a large facility if the opportunity arose.
"Over the years, we have been ensuring that we understand how to operate, getting skilled people in place, understanding the technology involved, so that when it came time to take the SMB (small business) cloud and make it into an enterprise solution, we would have the resources and expertise in place," he said. "We have that now."
The need for more and more computing power and data storage is growing at a great pace.
A recent Financial Times article noted global spending on cloud computing services is estimated to almost double in the next four years to reach $290 billion.
Although cloud services are deployed around the world, there are plenty of advantages for local companies to use a data centre in close proximity to their own operations.
Reid said customer relations is one factor, and although there are high-speed digital networks in place around the world, being closer to your servers can make a big difference.
Reid said that in conversations with EPIC and MTS customers, there has been a high level of local interest and excitement about the project.
"We expect to have it filled up relatively quickly, " he said. "I think we have a lot of great opportunities with some fairly large customers, and if some of them come on board, we are going to be doing another building relatively quick."
With the increasing reliance of businesses on information technology and digital information, there is a growing need to store and process it. That place is referred to as the cloud.
As Blouin said, "That can mean everything and nothing at the same time. It means pushing storage somewhere."
Reid said he is regularly in conversation with clients who are trying to figure out how to build their own data centre to meet their needs.
"Now, with our announcement and with the size and magnitude and sophistication of our project, they will have an alternative to building their own," he said.
"It is difficult to build from scratch and very capital-intensive, with a very long ROI (return on investment). Now, they don't have to come up with millions of dollars of capital to build their own. They can use ours."
Industry officials believe the facility will be well-received in the province.
"It will give Manitoba companies a Manitoba source for cloud computing within our own jurisdiction, and that's a big plus," said Kathy Knight, head of an IT industry association in the province. "There are cost benefits to be close to the source."
Having data domiciled in Canada is increasingly attractive now that more reports emerge about the liberties U.S. government agencies are taking with digital information in the U.S.
A recently launched data-processing investment tax credit in Manitoba gives tax credits on hardware and construction of such centres, and Blouin said power rates -- a key cost because of powering and cooling servers -- are very competitive in Manitoba.
MTS is partnering with a data-centre consulting business and a real estate investment trust to co-own the facility.
It is expected to be ready for occupancy by spring/summer 2015.