Re-establishing an identity

After 25 years in business, Global Data Systems found itself with something of an identity problem.

Clients knew the company as a Cisco Systems shop that provided networking and systems integration, mainly serving the public sector in government and education. Global had been a partner with the communications and information technology giant since the mid-’90s. In 1991, Global actually deployed Cisco’s first voice-over Internet protocol phone system in the United States.

GDS had other specialties, including physical and logistical security; satellite communications and disaster recovery; data storage and archiving; and cloud computing.

The company was building a new corporate headquarters and a Tier-4 data center, which is basically catastrophe-proof, in Lafayette. Global had established offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Houston. The company had also made major inroads into the commercial market, through health care, oil and gas, law and industrial manufacturing.

The staff size jumped 20 percent between 2011 and 2013, and the company expects to equal that growth through 2015, Chief Marketing Officer Ned Fasullo said. But lots of potential customers didn’t really know Global’s capabilities.

“The company has spent the last year or so rebranding to give people a better idea of what the company does,” Fasullo said.

GDS is now organized into four major lines of business or disciplines: telecommunications, systems integration, data center and cloud computing. Those four lines cover dozens of services, from hosted voice, data and communications and remote information technology help desks to systems consulting and infrastructure management.

Telecom and systems integration provide the majority of Global Data’s work at present, Fasullo said. In 2013, on the health care side alone, GDS built the IP telecommunications and wireless infrastructure for the $1.2 billion University Medical Center in New Orleans, as well as the “structured cabling” or telecommunications cabling infrastructure projects for East Jefferson General Hospital; West Jefferson General Hospital; and Baton Rouge’s General Health System.

“Where we really, really shine is physical security, access control and structured cable,” Fasullo said. “Those are three areas that are becoming increasingly important for people.”

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a school, a health care provider or a law firm, controlling access to a building and video surveillance are top of mind for everyone, Fasullo said. For example, it’s difficult these days to find companies of any size that don’t require security badges.

Global Data has also seen growth through satellite communications, largely through the energy industry. The service ensures that drilling contractors, service companies and even offshore vessels can remain in constant contact.

GDS also specializes in disaster recovery and business continuity services.

After Hurricane Gustav, Entergy Corp. used one of Global Data’s satellite trucks to establish field communications so the utility could begin to coordinate repairs and workers, Fasullo said. It’s impossible to overestimate the power, or value, of a satellite connection when there’s nothing else available.

While GDS isn’t counting on disaster recovery to drive future growth, the company expects its data center will and at “a fast clip,” Fasullo said.

GDS is expanding its presence in a large and steadily growing industry.

The data center infrastructure market will be worth $152 billion worldwide by 2016, according to a 2012 report by IT analysts Canalys. The report says the market is growing by 5 percent each year.

Rudy Hirschheim, a professor in LSU’s Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department, said outsourcing data provides some important advantages for an organization.

The organization no longer carries the burden of organizing large stores of data, constantly updating software and bearing the cost of those licenses, or worrying about backing that data up and recovering it, he said.

“What we’re seeing is more and more companies outsourcing a variety of these IT tasks to third-party providers,” Hirschheim said.

But there are a few drawbacks. Organizations no longer have the data on-site. And they still have to worry about privacy and security, which can be a concern when the third-party storage firm re-sources that storage to yet another provider.

If the second provider stores that data in another country, that information is subject to the laws of that country, Hirschheim said. It’s unclear whether everything will work smoothly when data is stored in countries outside the “first world.”

Companies who outsource also lose the workers with the IT skillsets who handled that data. Over the long term, that lack of expertise leaves organizations with a skills gap that can’t be filled as effectively with new hires or contract workers.

A lack of IT expertise may also increase a firm’s dependence on its software vendors, who may not have their customers’ best interests at heart, Hirschheim said.

Fasullo said these days just about everyone has “big data” storage problems, and GDS can offer the solutions.

The data center’s size is basically unlimited because GDS has agreements that give it access to space in data centers throughout the United States and the world. Clients pay a flat fee per gigabyte to archive their data for 10 years, secure in the knowledge that their information complies with “every known federal, state and international” regulation, Fasullo said.

Customers can access their data from their own Outlook control panel.

Tom Roberts, president of AFCOM, the data center industry management group, said it’s difficult to get a handle on how many U.S. data centers there are and how many are being built. The former is somewhere in the “tens of thousands.” The latter changes every day.

But Global Data is part of a growing trend.

A lot of companies are building centers to serve both clients and their own needs, Roberts said. Data centers are also branching out to other centers, locally, nationally and even internationally, to make sure all of their data is safe.

Fasullo said it’s also important that the data be producible.

“Anybody who’s involved in business, who may or may not get served with that nice, nasty piece of blue paper from a sheriff’s deputy, should be thinking about archiving and compliance,” Fasullo said.

The reason is that courts now require companies and public entities, like schools, to bring their evidence in an electronic format. If the company can’t, it starts racking up fines.

In the past five years, the health care sector alone has been fined more than $1 billion because providers couldn’t produce electronic documentation, Fasullo said. Oil and gas companies and petrochemical manufacturers are making compliance a major emphasis as well.

Global Data is also growing through less business-defensive measures.

This year, the company is launching a new service, a channel group brand, expected to boost growth.

Under the channel group, Global Data will provide satellite, data and cloud services to customers, allowing them to brand that service and sell it to their clients. By partnering with GDS, customers can generate additional revenue.

In 2013, Global Data wanted to be added to IT authority CRN’s online directory of partner programs. So Global submitted a case study for the business model it used to help Stallion Oilfield Services establish StaRComm, a satellite communications service for onshore and offshore energy companies.

“They (CRN) loved it and awarded us a place on their Top 50 list,” Fasullo said.

Global Data made the 2013 CRN Partner Program Winner list as an up-and-coming channel provider for voice, data and satellite communications.

GDS decided it should actually offer the channel brand as a service, Fasullo said.