The whisper in the company is that the security personnel are paid more than most employees. They certainly look like they are well looked after. Some are even armed. If you are a visitor, you will only be allowed to enter the gate if you are expected.
You have to be escorted by a security official till the point where a company executive takes over. X-ray scanners scan you as you enter. There are access-controlled turnstiles. Elevator cards take you only to the floor you are supposed to go.
It’s Lt Col Hardeep Singh Bedi’s newest and perhaps his boldest venture—an absolutely world-class data centre. It’s in Bangalore and it’s the third-biggest in the world, with a floor space of 9 lakh sq ft. That’s roughly equal to 10 international match sized football fields.
The biggest in the world is the Lakeside Technology Centre in Chicago (1.1 million sq ft, or 11 lakh sq ft) and the next biggest is the QTS Metro Data Centre in Atlanta (9.7 lakh sq ft).
A data centre holds the servers, storage and networking gear that companies use to store, process and transmit the enormous amounts of data that they deal with today. Many companies have their own internal data centres but, increasingly, they are handing over the data centre responsibilities to third parties. And that’s where Bedi’s Tulip Telecom saw an opportunity.
Since the data is priceless to companies, Bedi could not afford to make any compromises on security, which explains the amount he has spent on securing the facility. “Even if there is a bomb blast immediately outside our building, the data centre facilities will not be affected because there’s a second wall that separates the main building wall from the data centre,” Bedi, who turns 60 this year, says.
Security has been integral to Bedi right through his life. Early on, he decided to follow his family’s three-generation old tradition of serving the Indian Army. He graduated from the National Defence Academy to join the Army in 1972. He was initially in the armoured corps.
“But the Army lets you do other things, so I did some computer courses in the early 1980s in the Army’s Faculty of Computer Technology in Mhow. I was then posted as an instructor in the faculty for four years, after which I was posted to Delhi to plan the automation of the Army.” He was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal for his role in the computerization of the Indian Army.
In 1994, he took premature retirement from the Army and started a company called Tulip Software. “I had no idea about business. I started by selling software products. Then we got into hardware, then networking.”
An inflection point came in 2004, when Bedi won a project to connect the complete district of Malappuram in Kerala. With that success, he tried to see if he could provide data connectivity to corporates and customers in general. That too succeeded. Today, he has 2,000 cities covered on wireless and 300 cities on fibre (wires). “I quickly became the biggest player in wireless, and today, even on fibre, I’m bigger than Tata, Bharti and Reliance,” says Bedi. Many of the telecom service providers lease lines from Tulip, which had revenues of Rs 2,600 crore in the last fiscal year.
The Bangalore data centre, which was launched in February and on which he has already spent Rs 415 crore, is Bedi’s latest bet. A data centre cannot have the slightest bit of downtime. So everything in the data centre, including the power sources, is duplicated or triplicated. He used IBM as a consultant for the project. A data centre is measured by its power efficiency, and Bedi says his centre is at least 30% more efficient than the global average.
“I chose Bangalore because it is in seismic zone 1 (least prone to earthquakes). It is well connected, midway between Mumbai and Chennai, which are the landing stations for international fibre. And it has a lot of IT and hardware skills, so I can get support quickly if something were to go wrong,” says Bedi. HP, IBM and NTT are already customers for the data centre.
Rajesh Janey, president of storage major EMC India, says Tulip has evolved very well as a company. “They started as a systems integrator, went on to become the largest provider of virtual private networks in India. The Bangalore data centre is now truly trend setting,” he says.