Telco license enabling Gosford City Council's cloud ambitions

Gosford is Australia's first council to be a licensed telecommunications carrier – but for the council it's not so much about competing with existing telcos, as it is about facilitating a cloud and NBN-driven technology reinvention.

Seven months after it became the first local government council in Australia to secure its own telecommunications carrier license, regional NSW's Gosford City Council is ramping up an ambitious cloud-computing and virtual-computing strategy that will combine its newfound telecoms flexibility with services over the national broadband network (NBN).

Telecoms license helps council boost private-cloud availability, predictability: Punshon.

The decision to register with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) as a carrier under the Telecommunications Act 1997 – which was gazetted on July 9 last year – gave the council, which claims around 160,000 residents some 75km north of Sydney, the unprecedented ability to bypass conventional retail carriers, enlisting contractors to lay its own fibre when and where it wanted.

In a regional area where even mobile service is often patchy and third-party hosting solutions unpredictable, it was the best way to ensure the council could have some predictability around a major private-cloud investment that will eventually see 1600 employees accessing virtual desktops from all manner of mobile devices.

“As a customer there are a number of very steep hurdles in place” when dealing with commercial providers to meet infrastructure requirements, explains Gregory Punshon, manager for Information Management & Technology with the council.

“Once you've got the license in place, you're no longer dealing with carriers as a customer, but you deal with them as peer. This lets you have the appropriate conversations with them, and fibre – which you could always do but pricing was in the $100,000 to $1m range – becomes an affordable option in the short term rather than long term.”

Combined with its newfound status as an NBN reseller, which was added subsequent to the telco determination, Punshon says Gosford is in an ideal position to cost-effectively execute on its Gosford Anywhere strategy – which later this year will begin to see the council bring down costs and improve reliability by heavily leveraging its newfound access to telecommunications infrastructure.

"The aim isn't to grow a telecommunications empire; it's to deliver the right blend of services so we can deliver what the city needs. And while it's not our role to compete with telco providers, if there are areas where telco providers can't get a toehold, we might step in there.”

The council's role as telecommunications provider will, in particular, allow it to deliver new services with an equitable footprint that is much harder to reliably build in regional areas using third-party services.

“We have a much larger burden on us, geographically, to provide networking solutions compared with, say, Sydney,” Punshon says. “It's not a palatable commercial model for a traditional carrier to land data services into parts of the city where there's only a handful of users, and there's never any payback for that.”

Improving the reach and capabilities of broadband services will allow Gosford to improve its workforce productivity without being limited by the commercial restrictions that have hampered past telecoms investment in the area.

“For us, there's a significant advantage in using a lot more intelligence in how work teams use technology," Punshon explains.

"The aim isn't to grow a telecommunications empire; it's to deliver the right blend of services so we can deliver what the city needs. And while it's not our role to compete with telco providers, if there are areas where telco providers can't get a toehold, we might step in there.”

Although obtaining the carrier license had involved considerable upfront investment in time and money, in the long term the capital investment “is probably quite low compared to the capital investment that we had for the existing server infrastructure,” Punshon says.

“There has been no budgetary increase in IT to achieve those savings.”

The result has been an infrastructure framework that can support Gosford's strategic IT planning with a council-wide network that can not only support increasingly mobile users, but can consolidate the networking and application environments of nearly three dozen separate business units.

These units are gradually being migrated towards a cloud-hosted environment built around large volumes of NetApp storage and VMware servers (Gosford also recently took the lead in negotiating a group-buying deal for VMware View virtual desktop software that includes 42 other councils).

This infrastructure will provide new levels of reliability on private clouds as well as resolving lingering concerns around data sovereignty.

“Given councils' emergency and disaster recovery requirements, it makes reliance on clouds for essential services quite a tricky proposition,” Punshon explains.

“You want to make sure that the services that are essential for use during an emergency are provided in such a way that you can guarantee they're available when needed.”

“But we're committed to using cloud-based technologies to drive down our cost burden. One of the things that local government does, is to assist in the provision of services the market can't provide. It's a really bright and exciting future, and it is exciting to watch.”


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