NSW government opens up on datacentre strategy

As the NSW government preps for the first move into its new Unanderra datacentre this weekend, ZDNet looks to get an insight into the government's datacentre strategy. Part two of this series will look at the government's concept of a datacentre-based services marketplace, and its current thinking on the use of cloud.
Written by Tim Lohman, Contributor

The NSW government's plan to consolidate around 130 disparate government datacentres into two mega-datacentres — based in Silverwater, Sydney, and Unanderra, which is about an hour south of Sydney — has been a long time coming.

The plan started out with a 2008 review of 55 datacentre installations across 32 NSW government agencies. A change of state government in 2011 and a new IT reform agenda saw the decision to move from an original 40 percent datacentre consolidation target to 100 percent consolidation.

In May 2012, Metronode, a subsidiary of Leighton Contractors, was contracted to build two Tier III datacentre facilities in Silverwater, western Sydney, and at Unanderra, in the Illawarra region. The Silverwater facility was completed on July 19, 2013, and the Unanderra facility on August 20, 2013.

With the NSW government currently preparing for the move of the first tenant into the Unanderra datacentre this weekend, ZDNet spoke to Dr Pedro Harris, executive director of IT strategic delivery at the Department of Finance & Services, to get an insight into the government's thinking on its datacentre strategy.

Datacentre strategy

Dr Harris said there are three core components to the government's datacentre consolidation project: Building confidence that the project is real and is happening; creating clear triggers for agencies to move into the new facilities; and not being overly prescriptive on what IT hardware can and can't be migrated.

The first element, building confidence, has come down to securing major agencies as anchor tenants for the new facilities; in particular, the Departments of Health and Education, as well as agencies such as ServiceFirst and NSW Businesslink.

"With the bulk of the anchor tenants in [to the Silverwater facility] it has started to signal to industry that this is real and is something which is happening," Dr Harris explained. "Having those anchor tenants in makes it easier to drive these activities in the datacentre."

The government is also working to build agency confidence in the new datacentre facilities through its Acceleration Program, which allows agencies to trial services.

The program is in part facilitated by a high-speed link between the Silverwater facility and the GlobalSwitch-run facility in which a number of agencies currently reside. Using the connection, agencies can access shared infrastructure and services — what Dr Harris refers to as a "swing kit" — to trial the new facility, shared storage, and compute.

"For instance, an agency could use the Swing Kit storage network for holding their data as a staging platform before they migrate to the new facilities," he said. "Once they are relocated the data is then moved to it permanent storage network and the Swing Kit becomes available for another agency to use. This avoids each agency buying its own staging equipment. 

"As there are many government agencies currently co-locating in the Global Switch facility we have extended the data centre network to allow those agencies in that facility to accelerate their migration through the use of the Acceleration Program.

"There is no ‘try before you buy’ option. However, agencies co-locating in Global Switch can take advantage of [datacentre] marketplace services before they migrate."

With around 130 datacentres needing to be consolidated during the next four years, Dr Harris said the government has paid particular attention to creating the business case for the consolidation project.

A key aspect of this is the creation of four "triggers" under which a government agency must close its existing datacentre and move to one or both of the two new datacentre facilities. In having these triggers, the government can drive uptake of the new facilities, and also better manage the pipeline of 130 consolidation projects.

The first trigger, and the one guaranteeing uptake of the new facilities, is that each agency or department must move into the new datacentres within four years of their opening — by July 2017.

The second trigger for migrating is the expiration of a lease on current datacentre facilities, while the third is if there is an IT refresh taking place or about to take place. The final trigger to move is if it is determined that an agency's current IT environment is inefficient or poorly run.

"For an agency which has one of those triggers, we will work with them to write a business case, we will connect them up with providers for the migration, and then they will start the migration," Dr Harris explained.

"Once they are in the new environment, they are allowed to bring in any equipment which they currently own. If they still have two years to go on the equipment to write it off, and there is still some good life left in that equipment — we won't throw good money after bad — we will allow them to migrate, and then, once the warranty [expires] or the equipment has been fully depreciated, we will onboard them to a new service."

Dr Harris said that the government has deliberately chosen not to use the datacentre migration as an opportunity to carry out a hardware and software consolidation aimed at standardising the new IT environment.

"If we mandated what equipment they should be using, then the cost to migrate would be quite huge," he explained. "I am working on the basis that I respect my peers. They are sovereign over their own environment and they will make choices and decisions within a framework. Generally, we are nudging them where we want them to go — which is toward as a service.

"Most government CIOs think this way — and I thought it would be a hard sell — but they also see this as a completely new way of doing things. I was initially fearful that my peers would see this as an opportunity to completely replace their infrastructure with new equipment. That is definitely not the case."

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