Case study: Tideway uses private cloud to manage London ‘super sewer’ infrastructure

Infrastructure services director explains why Tideway has opted for a managed, private cloud setup to support sewer project

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: IT down the drain – how cloud is supporting the Thames Tideway tunnel

The Thames Tideway Tunnel project is designed to give London’s Victorian sewer system the capacity to cope with the sizeable demands placed on it by the capital’s 21st century-sized population.

The 25km tunnel will effectively divert the sewage that regularly overflows into the River Thames so it can be efficiently conveyed elsewhere for treatment.

The project is being spearheaded by Tideway, which will assume day-to-day responsibility for its maintenance once the tunnel is built, while Thames Water will be in charge of operating it as part of the wider London sewerage system.

With tunnelling due to begin in 2016, Tideway has enlisted the help of managed service provider Advanced 365 to handle the IT infrastructure underpinning the work.

Advanced’s team will provide Tideway with access to HR and finance systems, as well as more general business productivity software.

All this will be hosted in a private cloud setup, housed within Advanced’s own Tier III datacentre.

Although plans for the project have been more than a decade in the making, it was not until August this year that details were finalised for who would finance the construction phase, with purpose-built investment firm Bazalgette Tunnel emerging as the winner.

Managed service strategy

Robin Johns, head of IS at Tideway, says this uncertainty has had a sizeable bearing on its decision to adopt a managed service strategy, rather than cultivate an in-house IT team of its own.

“At that point, we didn’t know who was going to buy Tideway, whether it would be a buyer who knew the industry, such as another water utility company, or whether it would end up – as it is today – being an investment firm,” he says.

“If it was another utility company, the likelihood would be that it would have its own systems in place that we would need to plug and play into, whereas an investment firm might be more likely to buy us as a going concern and tell us to get on with it.

“We didn’t know if whoever bought us would come in and rip out everything or just allow us to get on with what we were doing, so we decided to go ‘as-a-service’ with as much of our IT as we could, in terms of applications, infrastructure and datacentre services.”

The size and scale of the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2023, also set Tideway a challenge in how best to future-proof its IT infrastructure, which is another reason why it chose a managed, private cloud approach.

“As projects evolve from design through to build, through to acceptance and handover, we don’t quite know what our infrastructure requirements are going to be, as our data and support needs are liable to change all the way through the lifecycle of a large infrastructure product like this,” says Johns.

Frontline support concerns

A public cloud-based setup was also out of the question because the organisation was looking for someone to take care of its frontline support concerns too, he says.

“It is more than just cloud we are getting from Advanced – they are running our helpdesk as well as our entire IT infrastructure,” adds Johns.

“It wasn’t a question of whether it was Amazon Web Services [AWS] or another public cloud service, because we were looking for one partner to do it all and didn’t want to fragment things too much by taking a multi-provider approach.”

The security offered by any prospective provider was also a big consideration for Tideway, he says, particularly in the light of how high-profile the project is and the fact that it involves looking after an integral part of London’s infrastructure.

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At the time of writing, the work to migrate Tideway’s IT infrastructure to the Advanced datacentre was nearing completion, and it will have taken about four months, says Johns.

“We’re probably about 90% there. We have a few more migrations to happen, including Exchange, and we’re also upgrading a network in one of our offices,” he says.

“We have been ramping things up slowly, because we didn’t want a ‘big bang’ transition of service. We wanted to embed them into the team, so they were familiar with how we work and what we do, while allowing our existing provider time to wind down its work.”

Learn from experiences

Looking ahead, Johns says his team is keen for other organisations embarking on similar infrastructure projects to learn from Tideway’s experiences to date.

“One of the things we’ve done is set up a business capability modelling analysis,” he says, which has helped the organisation take stock of what needs to be done as the project proceeds.

Using these insights, Johns says Tideway can help similar organisations set up to support the rollout of large-scale infrastructure projects to get off the ground more quickly.

“There will be more pop-up businesses occurring around infrastructure projects like this in future, and working out how to accelerate the setup time is important, as it reduces costs and the impact on stakeholders,” he says.

“So, we’re looking to see if there is any work we can do to help other people replicate the work we’ve done in other infrastructure projects.”

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