Solihull Council's datacentre plans slammed by G-Cloud champions

Solihull Council is building a new datacentre with 10-20 years of capacity, much to the chagrin of industry watchers

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s decision to build a new 390m2 datacentre has been slammed, given the wide availability of public sector-focused cloud services.

The local authority has enlisted datacentre design firm Secure IT Environments to build the facility by September 2015, with work on the project set to begin some time in April.

The project was originally sent out to tender in December 2014, where the council revealed plans to replace its existing datacentre with a new facility as part of a wider refurbishment of the local authority’s offices.

“It is critical the new facility should be constructed and completed in 2015 to allow for a Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council-led ICT migration period of 12 months, prior to the commencement of the main refurbishment project,” the tender document stated.

Chris Wellfair, projects director at Secure IT Environments, told Computer Weekly that the council anticipates running both the old and new datacentres for at least a year.

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“The existing Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council datacentre is a 24 hours, 365 days uninterrupted facility and is essential for the majority of [its] services,” he said.

“The proposed datacentre will run in parallel with the current datacentre for at least 12 months, whilst service migration takes place.”

Wellfair said the site will also offer greatly improved energy efficiency and will operate with a lower carbon footprint than the council’s existing site.

“The new datacentre allows for growth in the foreseeable future of around 10-20 years,” he added.

The datacentre will include the latest innovative design with energy-efficient mechanical equipment to run and cool the site.

The cloud conversation

The value of the deal has not been disclosed, but Solihull Council has described the datacentre development as essential to ensuring “business continuity for all services” within the local authority.

“It will help us to reduce energy consumption and provide a cost-effective solution for the future,” the council said in a statement, announcing the deal.

However, with the council clearly keen to reduce costs, the news has prompted confusion among industry watchers as to why the organisation has opted to build its own datacentre over using cloud services.

Tony Lock, distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics, said building its own datacentre would provide the council with a greater degree of control, which is likely to have been a major factor in its decision.

“Building and running your own datacentre allows maximum ability to design for your own specific requirements,” he said.

“It comes down to what services does the council need to deliver, what services do they expect to have to provide going forward, and how are such services currently made available.

“Some, possibly many, may be available from G-Cloud providers, but there is a possibility that not everything they need is currently available,” Lock added.

Mark Craddock, former CloudStore leader for the government’s G-Cloud procurement programme, described the council’s datacentre-building plans as “madness”, particularly with the range of public sector-focused cloud offerings available to local authorities.

However, with the “sphere of influence” of the Government Digital Services arm barely extending beyond the M25, not all local authorities are aware of the range of services open to them.

“I have some sympathy for Solihull,” said Craddock.“ Left on its own to make difficult decisions, and who’s got its back?”

This view was echoed by Georgina O’Toole, public sector director at IT analyst firm TechMarketView, who queried if other economic forces might be influencing the council’s datacentre strategy.

“This strikes me as odd. After all, you could now utilise the Crown Hosting Service agreement, which would give useful flexibility looking ahead,” she said.

“Could this be driven by a desire to protect and provide local employment? Perhaps it is planning on selling unused capacity to other authorities,” O’Toole added.

Computer Weekly raised both of these points with Solihull Council to find out more about the motivation behind its datacentre creation plans. It said it's not adverse to using cloud services but – on this occasion – there was no business case to do so.

"We explored moving all data to the cloud, but none of the suppliers on the market, or even other authorities offering shared services, could compete on costs with building our own," the council said.

"Over 10 years our on-site datacentre will work out substantially cheaper than renting one from the cloud. The costs of moving to the cloud or consultancy costs from cloud suppliers will also not be incurred," it added.

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