Launching The New IBA Group Campus in Minsk

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I flew to Belarus recently to be at the launch event of the new IBA Group campus on June 8th. The new campus includes a large new office building housing over 900 team members, a data center, a fitness center, parking, and accommodation.

Of course, travelling from Brazil to Belarus is a long way to go just for a party, but there were some special guests at this event including Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman, Sergei Nalivaiko, Minister of Taxes and Duties for the Republic of Belarus, Cesare Baroni, Vice President for Transformation and Operations, Systems & Supply Chain at IBM, and Valery Tsepkalo, Hi-Tech Park Director.

The IBA Group leaders and VIP guests all participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the entrance of the new campus, which was also captured by a drone buzzing over the head of the crowd. When Sergei Levteev lifted up a symbolic key to the building over 300 balloons soared into the sky.

The new campus comprises these different areas:

1.    A 6-storey building with around 900 workplaces equipped with the latest engineering and telecommunication infrastructure
2.    A fitness center with a gym, a large game room, fitness rooms, and a table tennis room
3.    A data center built in accordance with modern international standards of reliability and performance and using modern energy-saving technologies of operating energy-intensive equipment. The heat generated by computer technologies of the data center is recovered and used to heat the fitness center
4.    Three-level parking lot for 400 cars.

The fitness center was impressive, with several basketball courts and facilities for 5-a-side football as well as other games such as pool and table tennis. All modern offices are now finding it essential to offer these spaces where tired techies can escape from their code for a while.

The office was modern and featured elegant transparent elevators that allow passengers to watch the horizon as they ascend to the top floor. It’s also possible to access the roof, where artificial grass creates another area for relaxation.

What I found most impressive on the tour of the new facilities though was the data center. I haven’t been to a data center for some time because most companies I know now outsource this requirement. However this is exactly what IBA Group is offering to their clients, a secure data center facility.

The data center had two completely separate power supplies from different substations on the power grid and they charged up two separate battery units. This allows the mains power to be used even if one section of the city grid fails and if there is a complete failure of the grid then the significant battery power storage allows the entire campus to keep on running for many hours – so the servers can be shut down in a controlled way if there is no chance of the mains power returning.

In most older data centers I have visited, the entire room is cooled, but in the IBA Group’s new data center every rack has fridge-style cooling in addition to the room being cooled. This kept the room impressively cool, even with a large party of guests opening and closing doors. Huge pipes pumped coolant around the facility with the excess heat being transferred to the fitness center.

A character from the future called “I” came and joined the launch event, bringing a celebration cake and a string quartet entertained the guests as they painted their own vision for the campus.

The launch event was both entertaining and informative. I have worked with IBA Group for several years now, but I was impressed to see that their abilities and scale keep on improving. This campus has only just opened and they already have another that will accommodate another 1,000 people being planned and ready to be launched as quickly as that one can be constructed.

I’m grateful that IBA Group allowed me to attend their launch event. It gave an incredible insight into the ambition of this company. Congratulations for this new campus launch and I wish them all the best for the new launch – when the campus that is still being planned is ready to launch then I’d love to return to see how much further the company has travelled.

Click here to see images and videos from my visit to IBA Group in Minsk this month…

Belarus: Old Masters of IT in Europe

Mark Hillary

Last month, I visited Minsk in Belarus. It’s not a place that too many Europeans visit because a visa is required to enter the country and at this time of year it is bitterly cold. But I wanted to see what was happening in the technology industry in Belarus so I went as a guest of IBA Group along with Peter Ryan, an analyst from Ovum.

My first impression on arriving in Minsk was astonishment. I have been to many countries in Eastern Europe and several that were behind the old Soviet Iron Curtain, so I had a preconception of what I might see, but the first thing I noticed was that the road from the airport into the city was so smooth and new, it would be a skateboarders dream surface.

I had expected to see an environment similar to that in Moscow, plenty of historic buildings and many examples of the old communist architecture – big concrete blocks in my non-architect view. However, my first thoughts on seeing the buildings in Minsk were that it resembles East Berlin. The city is felt very European and very modern.

Minsk Independence Square
A local described to me how Minsk has been completely renovated over the past twenty years. Naturally this is the period since the end of the Soviet Union. Many churches that are hundreds of years old, but fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, have been beautifully restored and there is an enormous resurgence in worship. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that I took a look at were all busy even during daytime in mid-week.

During our stay, Peter and I visited one of the development centres of IBA Group. This company was born in Belarus in 1993 and now has almost 3,000 people all over the world and customers in 40 countries. They are now headquartered in the Czech Republic, which means that they are based inside the EU, but they maintained a software development facility in Minsk – a team that is growing so fast they have commissioned an entirely new building that is under construction now.

IBA Group is an interesting company because they are focused on complete solutions, rather than software development alone. A good example is the public transport ticketing system they developed for use in Minsk – it’s very similar to the Oyster card system in London. However, they put together all the card readers, terminals, and software needed to make it work. They are also able to earn from the knowledge the system provides on how people move around the city – sometimes this data can be more valuable that the IT system itself.
Minsk Central Post Office

Minsk does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.

This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.

This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.

The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.

The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.

I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.

I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.

Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk Yakub Kolas Monument
Minsk, November 25, 2014