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Federal data centre strategy 2010-25: A long time horizon

by Staff Writers •
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It is often said planning beyond a 5 year horizon is of limited value because of how much can change, and how quickly.  This is particularly true with Information and Communications Technology (ICT), where innovation gives rise to technology and solution redundancy at an ever-increasing rate.

The future direction of data centre use in government has been on the planning agenda at both State and Federal level for the last three years or so.  It is on the agenda because of the inexorable increase in the amount of data that must be stored and accessed by agencies, particularly the ‘tier one’ agencies with significant client service functions or with high numbers of personnel. 

At the state level, such agencies include those performing health, education, transport, human services and justice functions, and each jurisdiction is tackling the problem in slightly different ways.  For example, NSW released an EOI for Data Centre provision on 2 November 2009 following a review in 2008 that projected demand outstripped current capacity.

At the Federal level, agencies include those performing heavily client or personnel centric functions such as income security (Centrelink, Child Support Agency, Medicare Australia), defence, taxation/ revenue collection (Australian Tax Office, Customs), immigration (Department of Immigration and Citizenship) as well as health and education program administration/ funding.

Federal consideration of the challenges presented by the burgeoning storage problem and the current devolved approach to data centres provisioning began with the recommendation of Sir Peter Gershon in The Review of the Australian Government’s Use of ICT (the ICT Review) in 2008 and culminated in the release by Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner of the Federal Government’sAustralian Government Data Centre Strategy 2010-2025

According to the Strategy document, Australian Government agencies operating under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA) spend an estimated $4.3 billion per annum on Information and Communication Technology (ICT).  Of that, around $850 million per annum is on data centres.  FMA agencies use about 30,000 square metres of data centre space.

The Data Centre Strategy adheres to Gershon’s recommendations so as to ensure the maximum of the anticipated $1 billion savings over the next 10-15 years.

At the heart of the strategy is a desire to avoid a “piecemeal” approach to procuring data centre capacity, with agencies competing in an ad hoc fashion in the market place for potentially limited data centre space, thus driving up prices.

The Australian Government Data Centre Strategy 2010-2025 is in line with a concentrated effort by the Federal Government to implement whole-of-government (panel) contracts where it is logical and economically beneficial to do so. 

Under the Data Centre Strategy, it will be compulsory for FMA Act agencies to procure from a panel of data centre suppliers.  This panel is to be established through an ‘approach to the market’.  The suppliers on the interim panel, establishedin September last year to meet urgent need will be required to recompete to gain a place on the new panel.

The interim panellists were:

  • Canberra Data Centres;
  • Fujitsu Australia Limited;
  • Global Switch Property Australia;
  • Harbour MSP Pty Ltd; and
  • Polaris Data Centres.

Before the interim panel was established, Centrelink went to market to meet pressing data centre needs.  Running critically short of data centre capacity, in August 2009 it awarded a significant contract to Canberra Data Centres, a two-year contract valued at $4.88m.  The contract commenced on 1 September 2009.

Under the newly announced strategy, agencies may move voluntarily into new arrangements but if they do not, they will be required to move in under the new arrangements when certain defined trigger points occur:

  • Lease expiry;
  • Outsourcing contract expiry;
  • Major asset replacement;
  • Building move;
  • End of life of the data centre; or
  • Significant increase in data centre capacity requirement.

The long term strategy will be implemented in phases, with the first ‘approaches to market’ set for Quarter 3 (Q3) and Q4 of 2010. 

The first market test will seek to procure data centre services both inside and outside the Australian Capital Territory.  The minimum amount of floor space sought will be 500 square metres with a lease term of 10 years, plus optional extensions up to five years.

A second approach to the market, planned for Q4 2010, will seek the services necessary to assist agencies in moving to new data centre facilities – and this is likely to be a very important component of the strategy.  Identifying server redundancy through smart use of asset management software and other techniques should be the most important part of future data centre management. 

And as for the 15 year planning horizon?  Those with long memories in Canberra may recall that Telstra’s Deakin telephone exchange, purpose built to house essential and state of the art telecommunications equipment, including support for NASA’s moon missions, was rendered redundant for that purpose by the mid 80s (only 20 or so years after it was built) due to communication technology miniaturization (microprocessors and microchips).  The equipment which once required an entire building for its housing, almost overnight required only a fraction of that space.

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