Yarra City Council's cloud strategy helps build foundation for open data

Yarra City Council has a desire to openly share its data, and has been moving its IT infrastructure into the cloud as a foundation for its vision.

Victoria's Yarra City Council has a vision to eventually open up its data, but realised that in order to do that it needed to overhaul its existing IT infrastructure. It was unaware of just how much change was required, until Rick Bottiglieri was appointed as the council's innovation manager just under three years ago.

Bottiglieri, who is responsible for driving and deploying Yarra City Council's cloud strategy into the recently expanded Equinix's ME1 facility, first highlighted the need for the shift to management by taking them on an offsite excursion to the datacentre before showing them, as a comparison, what existed in the council's own datacentre.

"I had eight people who were completely mesmerised by the professionalism, the way the datacentre was configured ... and I thought this really hit a nerve with our executives. We spent a day out there, had a look around, and really heard how technology could benefit the organisation," he said, noting the executive committee was initially apprehensive about the idea of moving into the cloud.

"The last part of the tour was then actually going on a tour of our datacentre, and they walked into our datacentre and they were completely crushed by the fact that it was a broom closet. The technology wasn't up to scratch, the air conditioning units were these little units on the wall, and from that point on that was the start of the journey."

Bottiglieri admitted to ZDNet that in comparison to what Equinix has in their facility, the council's one was outdated, which meant it was very costly to maintain; there was minimal opportunity to move as quickly or deploy applications as fast as the council wanted to and tapes were still, up until earlier this year, being used for data backup.

"One of the things that kept me awake in the first few months of being at Yarra was the fact that as the person responsible for business continuity I wasn't satisfied with recovering in the case of a disaster recovery, and that kept me up at night and -- to some degree -- now. Obviously having your own datacentre, there's a fair bit of risk, things can go wrong, and certainly in moving to a cloud platform, it reduces that risk considerably for us," he said.

But since the start of the year when the council's cloud strategy received approval, Yarra Council has managed to move its entire Microsoft stack into the cloud, and continues to move the council's propriety ERP application stack into Equinix's co-location facility, which it believes will be completed by the end of August.

As a result of the changes to date, Bottiglieri said scaling applications in Microsoft 365 now happens automatically, and it no longer takes days to restore from backups -- rather it can be carried out in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, he pointed out the council is already seeing savings of approximately 55 percent. Bottiglieri said he hopes within the next two years to reduce the council's total infrastructure cost by half. He plans to achieve this by completely decommissioning the council's on-premises datacentre, and move any residing legacy applications into Equinix within the next 12 to 18 months.

Bottiglieri has referred the work to date as the "foundation project" for a much broader goal he has for the Yarra City Council.

"Where I see Yarra Council heading is to this world where we're consuming cloud services or applications more regularly, but also opening up our data from a government perspective to others within and outside the sector," he said.

"I have a desire to put our non-confidential data and allow for the market to consume that data for its own purposes. The infrastructure project is just setting us up for something bigger and that's really about open sharing of data."