Interview: Government CIO John Suffolk explains case for radical datacentre downsize

The UK government's IT strategy document was published in January this year by the Cabinet Office. In it, UK government CIO John Suffolk laid out the vision...

The UK government's IT strategy document was published in January this year by the Cabinet Office. In it, UK government CIO John Suffolk laid out the vision for delivering government services through the G-cloud and the infrastructure that would underpin this delivery model.

Part of the plan is to cut the number of public datacentres in central government from 130 to between 10 and 12. This is just the start as other public sector bodies will be brought into the policy. The implications for UK public sector datacentres and their workers could not be greater.

Suffolk says, "The starting point is this: in central government we have 130 datacentres. Following a survey of central government's insourced and outsourced datacentres, we asked the question: 'Do you need 130?'

"The analysis was done by IT industry trade body Intellect. It said that we could significantly reduce the number from 130 to something like 10-12."

Suffolk explains that there will not be a wholesale closing down of datacentre space. "We have lots of estate, and we're not just going to close it down.

"We have, for example, contracts of variable lengths, so we have a number of strands in our approach. The first strand is, let's stop building datacentres. The second strand involves working with existing suppliers and asking about their plans to rationalise their own datacentres. The third strand involves looking at when systems are coming up for renewal and looking at what is no longer needed in the natural contractual termination cycle."

Is there enough capacity in the UK to accommodate such a level of datacentre consolidation? Suffolk says he has not heard any feedback from the industry on any issues around datacentre capacity.

"It is not just a physical build question, it is about what you are putting in. We have lots of build. But is it the right build? That is where the government cloud comes in," he says.

Such radical change will mean a serious disruption for those working in public sector datacentres, but Suffolk is confident the change will happen. "The strategy we wrote was written by CIOs for CIOs. We have a very good professionalisation portal, and we have been in the public eye and are working closely with everyone involved."

But Suffolk is non-committal on whether a change of government after the imminent general election will affect the strategy. "Let's wait until after the election," he says.

Extract from the Government ICT Strategy - Smarter, Cheaper, Greener

The datacentre strategy

It is time for a significant rationalisation of the datacentres that provide information-based services to public sector organisations. Such rationalisation will bring substantial savings in cost and energy consumption. At the same time, it will improve service standards and increase the ability to cope with disruption. This strand is aligned with other elements of the government ICT strategy - in particular, the public service network - and provides the enabling platform for the government cloud and the government applications store.

Development of the datacentre infrastructure in the public sector has followed a similar pattern to that in most large organisations. Budgets and procurement decisions have been devolved to many different levels, meaning that while procurement decisions have been taken in the best interests of each individual organisation at a specific time, at the 'big picture' level this has resulted in a proliferation of datacentres.

In late 2008, members of the CIO council and the Intellect public sector council initiated joint work that concluded there was now an opportunity to develop a datacentre strategy for the whole of the public sector. The intention is to consolidate public sector datacentres (whether in-house or outsourced), firstly in central government (including non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies), and then moving into the wider public sector. This will be delivered in line with the approaches pioneered by the large internet firms for datacentre design, thus enabling the government cloud as well as creating significant savings.

Over the next three- to five years, approximately 10-12 highly resilient strategic datacentres for the public sector will be established to a high common standard. This will then enable the consolidation of existing public datacentres into highly secure and resilient facilities, managed by expert suppliers. As well as savings on ICT infrastructure costs in the order of £300m a year, this will also make a significant contribution to environmental targets through a reduction of up to 75% in power and cooling requirements.

This article first appeared in Datacenter Dynamics Focus magazine

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