NBN or not, regional IT must move ahead

Regional economic development key, not government bureaucracy

Yesterday I was invited to attend the opening of the first HP POD container data centre in the Asia Pacific region. It was located in the regional NSW town of Wyong and, most interestingly, the advanced data centre project will be servicing customers from next month – all without an NBN.

To be honest, I was genuinely interested in this POD (short for Portable Optimised Datacentre) project. To me it wasn’t just another vendor flag waving ceremony.

My interest lies in the application of the technology. Okay, so I would be lying if I said I didn’t have an interest in the technology itself, but for the most part I love how, and where, the new POD is being used.

For those unfamiliar with Wyong and the NSW Central Coast, it has historically been viewed as a holiday haven for Sydney’s working class.

Every summer – and most long weekends I might add – thousands of people religiously trek (in traffic) north to the Central Coast to enjoy the seaside lifestyle.

But in recent years more people have been swapping the life and sprawl of Sydney for a more permanent residence on the Coast.

Combine the long, but not unreasonable, commute (some tell me the commute from the Central Coast is comparable to one end of Sydney to another) with the option of telecommuting and living on the Coast is now commonplace for many people, including a few IT pros I'm led to believe.

About 18 months ago I wrote a feature article on the factors that influence the location of IT industry in regional areas, with a particular emphasis on the NSW Central Coast.

Bear in mind this was well before the NBN was set in ink on the back of a napkin. The key lesson from the interviews is that the pros of locating an IT company in a regional area outweigh the cons and that the infrastructure to do so is adequate.

Incidentally, in the case of ADC Krone, I remember interviewing one of the head IT pros years ago on its successful VoIP roll-out. It was an early adopter of VoIP to bypass exorbitant STD call rates from regional areas – hence my point about smarter IT, not faster broadband.

There may be, or course, situations where locating any company in a regional area is not feasible, but for the cases where it is, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen.

As I sit and write this in North Sydney in an office that overlooks the harbour, a brand new building now blocks my view of the Opera House. One of the companies taking up residence in that new building is Vodafone – so much for the mobile workforce.

NBN, what NBN?

During the press conference Verb IT director Chris Clifford briefly mentioned the NBN and held off on giving heartfelt approval for the project.

Clifford seemed pleased that an NBN is going ahead, but also didn’t hold back in stating the truth about what was already available – a lot of dark fibre.

Before a company would even think about locating at data centre in a regional area the communications infrastructure must be at least up to scratch. And this ordinary industrial site in Wyong – and 5Kms out of town at that – has the necessary fibre infrastructure to host a data centre.

Granted, an NBN will in theory “raise the bar” and provide an additional level of connectivity above what’s already available, but that shouldn’t impact the amount of IT development in regional areas.

Verb DC is a real world example of how proponents of the NBN can’t use the “regional economic development” case as to why the NBN should exist.

If you’ve been following my opinions on the NBN, you’ll notice I can be best described as NBN “neutral”, so to speak.

If we get fibre into every door, driveway and dunny in the country that’s great, but if we don’t get that far does that mean the end of the world? Of course not, we must make do with the infrastructure we already have (including fibre!) and what continues to be built out in new estates (commercial and residential) like the one in Wyong.

I certainly DON’T believe for a second that Australia will be “left behind” without an NBN – that’s propaganda at its finest. That ranks right up there with the arguments in the 80s that Australia would be “left behind” if we didn’t all learn Japanese. Or is that now Mandarin?

Australia can and will develop a successful IT economy with or without an NBN. It’s more a matter of our will to do it and the technologies we employ, not so much the level of last-mile connectivity we have.

Full credit goes to Verb IT and its new data centre. Against the grain it has deployed the most technologically advanced data centre of its type in the country, and did it in a regional area, even with its head office being located in Sydney.

Oh for an NBN, but an even bigger oh for regional IT development.

Rodney Gedda is Editor of TechWorld Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is rodney_gedda@idg.com.au. Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter at @Techworld_AU.

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Tags NBNdata centresregional ITcentral coastVerb ITHP POD

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