BBC cloud plans need urgent implementation, says IT head

The roll-out of the cloud and virtualisation across the BBC is an urgent priority to cut costs and maintain daily technology operations, a BBC technology head has warned

The roll-out of the cloud and virtualisation across the BBC is an urgent priority to cut costs and maintain daily technology operations, a BBC technology head has said.

Roger Crothers, head of technology at BBC Wales, said his £700,000 IT budget for the year was being consumed by tactical projects, due to the maintenance of expensive legacy systems. “It’s like a band aid on a gunshot wound because the problems are bigger than we can afford to fix right now,” he told Computer Weekly at the IT Directors Forum.

“It’s fine having a strategy, but when you are doing everything tactically it’s hard to have a strategic direction, so the document in a way becomes worthless," he added. "It’s all very well saying we are going to have regular refresh cycles, and make sure we take this upgrade path, but some of our systems are 11 years old.”

Crothers said the BBC’s central technology strategy to cloud computing would create more space in the IT budget to alleviate these problems. In its strategy last year, the organisation committed to creating a private BBC 'B-Cloud'.

“A lot of the things the technology division is talking about implementing, such as cloud, and how big a server room we need, would allow me to make the necessary cuts without affecting service quality. What we need is for some of those pilots to be at a point to roll out, given that we are a few years away and evaluating the options,” he told Computer Weekly.

“The old systems are still difficult to manage, which is one reason the technology division is looking at strategies that will have a lower impact on support," said Crothers.

[The IT budget] is like a band aid on a gunshot wound because the problems are bigger than we can afford to fix right now

Roger Crothers, head of technology, BBC Wales

Virtualisation and the cloud would enable more IT functions to be managed centrally. This would enable regional BBC centres to reduce the number of support staff they have, he said.

“The reason they are looking at those is because if you can host it in datacentre somewhere resilient, you don’t need multiple installations. There are 99 permanently manned buildings in the UK, many of which could have IT hosted in a datacentre," said Crothers. “Reducing them is a sensible approach and that is the strategy that we have to conform to."

Virtualised radio play out systems are being piloted and have had positive feedback, he said. “It’s likely that will be rolled out across the BBC, but not right now because there isn’t money for it.”

But such projects require some capital outlay, which Crothers said could be a problem for the BBC under current spending restraints: “You still need money to do that in the first place, even putting it in a datacentre, you have to have low latency links as it has to be second perfect. So getting it to work in that environment will be challenging.”

The strategy must be rolled out soon, he said: “The worst thing for us could be that Mark Thompson says, ‘I’m leaving at end of the year – it’s not right for me to make that decision, so let’s wait for the next director general to come in'.”

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