Gov't CIO: Datacentre merger will boost security

Cost cuts are behind the government's plans to whittle its hundreds of datacentres down to as few as nine, but there may be security and green benefits too

The planned consolidation of government datacentres will improve security, according to the government's chief information officer.

The datacentre reduction is part of the government's new IT strategy, launched on Wednesday, which aims to save £3.2bn a year via improvements in the public sector IT infrastructure.

There are around 130 datacentres for central government, over 80 in policing, and a large number in local government, according to government IT chief John Suffolk. Under the strategy, the government hopes to reduce this number to either nine or 12.

"In this context, less is more. If there's a smaller number [of government datacentres], this will make it even more secure than today," Suffolk said. "Less access means there is less to attack."

The move to reduce the number of datacentres to nine or 12 is partly due to security considerations, Suffolk added. The government plans follow the example of some critical national infrastructure companies and cluster the datacentres into trios, as part of its business-continuity planning. The thinking is, if one datacentre goes down, the other two maintain availability.

One of the main drivers for consolidation is cost reduction. Technology company HP did an analysis of potential savings of rationalisation for the government, and predicted a £900m saving over the first three years, and £300m thereafter.

Rationalisation should also provide environmental benefits. The introduction of green technological improvements such as fresh air cooling will also make the centres more cost efficient, Suffolk said. One potential supplier believes it can build a zero-carbon datacentre, he added.

Timescales for the datacentre consolidation are varied, Suffolk said. At present, most of the datacentres are outsourced to private companies, and this will continue. However, when the contracts come up for renewal, government departments and agencies will be expected to rationalise.

The government will learn from empirical evidence of datacentre consolidations around the world, in terms of migrating data and maintaining service continuity.

"This is not a new process, but we've got to get it right," said Suffolk. "Having moved datacentres in a past life, you do go a little bit greyer around the hair."

Contracts to provide the new datacentres have not yet been put out to tender. However, Cable & Wireless told ZDNet UK that it would be bidding on them.

"[We want to] provide the datacentres and communications networking requirements," said C&W's director of government frameworks Janet Grossman. "Our goal is to provide the underlying infrastructure."

Grossman said she expected all the large systems integrators to bid to provide technology and infrastructure for the government IT plan.