Southend-on-Sea Council embarks on £1.5m hybrid cloud datacentre refresh

Local authority says hybrid cloud datacentre plans will pave the way for greater use of services offered via G-Cloud framework

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is to embark on a £1.5m hybrid cloud datacentre refresh project so it can combine its existing on-premise infrastructure with new services offered through the government’s G-Cloud framework.

The local authority issued a tender in mid-December seeking a provider to install, commission and test the equipment to provide it with a multi-tenanted, hybrid datacentre setup, based on a reference architecture designed by networking giant Cisco.

Some industry watchers seized on the plans as a sign that the council was planning to build a new datacentre and shun the G-Cloud framework, despite needing to make savings of £10.5m in the 2016/17 financial year.

But in a statement to Computer Weekly, the council was quick to refute this suggestion, explaining that its decision to pursue a hybrid build for the site would make it easier to incorporate services offered through G-Cloud within its wider IT strategy in years to come.

“We are not building a new datacentre,” the statement reads. “The equipment that is being replaced will be part-exchanged by the suppliers to reduce cost. In replacing certain items, the council also aims to save money in energy consumption. 

“Over the next 10 years, the hybrid equipment will support moving to public, private and G-Cloud services in what is currently the most economical way.”

To reinforce its commitment to using G-Cloud, the council said it is not averse to using the framework “where it makes economic sense to do so”.

“While storage and other services in the cloud are seen as fashionable, they are still often not the most cost-effective method of delivery,” it added.  

“Following changes in Safe Harbour regulations, data ownership and governance outside of UK territory also remains unclear. Like most other local authorities, we are constantly evaluating this against a rapidly changing digital landscape.”

In its hybrid cloud datacentre tender documents – seen by Computer Weekly – the council stresses that the Cisco design is merely included as guidance to demonstrate what it requires the infrastructure to do, rather than dictate how it should be built.

“Notwithstanding that the reference example has been validated by Cisco, the successful provider will be required to warrant its own design implementation,” the document states.

“Bidders are wholly responsible for making proposals that will provide the most economically advantageous tender when judged against the award criteria.”

Read more about G-Cloud deployment

The council said the deployment should enable it to move workloads between private and public cloud environments as required, while giving it the capability to provide off-premise services to other local authorities and private businesses.

As such, the facility will be used by the NHS, local schools, police services and G-Cloud providers to deliver a wide range of services to local residents, the council statement said.

“The expenditure will be kept to the bare minimum as we always seek to ensure value for money,” the statement continued. “As part of its digital strategy, the council will continue to enable greater digital access to the borough’s services across a unitary authority that serves 178,000 residents within one of the most densely urban areas outside of London.

“As we adopt a digital approach to many of our services, other efficiencies and savings will rely on the equipment we are refreshing, which is why it is essential to complete this project at this time.”

Other stipulations in the tender documents are that the setup must be efficient, highly automated and be “capable of operating and interacting with a borough-wide smart city infrastructure to control public assets within a digital platform”.

When Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council unveiled plans in April 2015 to build a new datacentre, the move was met with some derision by public sector industry watchers, who queried why the project was necessary, given the wide range of services offered via the G-Cloud framework.

In response, Solihull Council similarly said the decision would work out more cost-effective in the long run, adding: “None of the suppliers on the market, or even other authorities offering shared services, could compete on costs with building our own.”

Over the past two financial years, Southend Council has faced cuts to its central government grants of about 28%, which in 2016/17 equates to a drop of £8.43m. The council has publicly stated that this means making departmental savings of £10.467m this year.

The council has also outlined its spending commitments, totalling £52.7m, over the same period, of which £1.385m has been set aside for “core” ICT infrastructure and software improvements in 2016/17.

Spending priorities

A council statement – published on 11 January – about the local authority’s spending priorities for 2016/17 said many of the areas earmarked for investment this year are geared towards supporting its income-generating activities. 

“In tough economic times, we must be careful what we decide to invest in and we cannot, and will not, waste time and resources on vanity projects,” said council leader Ron Woodley.

“However, we must also remain ambitious, move with the times, innovate, encourage investment into the borough and look to the future.

“That is why we are investing in essential things like ensuring we have enough secondary school places in 2017 and 2018… and vital ICT and software improvements to ensure we remain a modern business and workforce.

“I am committed more than ever to reducing the planned amount of council borrowing, so, wherever possible, these projects will bring income into the council or are simply unavoidable.”

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Jos Creese, independent consultant and former Hampshire County Council CDO, said that with local authorities under growing pressure to think more like commercial organisations, a datacentre refresh could be a savvy move.

“There is no shortage of innovative thinking, business leadership and entrepreneurial success in local government,” he said. “But this must be underpinned by necessary business models and technology infrastructure in order to compete with the private sector, as well as agreement about the level of business risk that is acceptable and appropriate in our public services.”

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