Posts Tagged storage

Datacentre thinking

A big moment for us next week – we are finally presenting our new Datacentre Strategy.

This really has its roots in decisions taken a couple of years ago. Although we have two datacentres (to provide business continuity in the event of a significant IT or other major incident), the growth in data storage and IT generally meant that we had reached a critical point in one of the two locations. We had reached capacity in terms of power and cooling (two of the three main considerations for the datacentre, the other being physical space) to support the level of equipment we needed to deploy in the space. An approach to put in place an interim solution, using leased space was agreed in order that we would have time to consider the longer term needs of the university.

Now, some 2 and a bit years later we are presenting that and our recommendations for datacentre provision to support the university in the medium to longer term. It’s been a considerable piece of work, not least because of the evolving environment around ‘cloud’ computing and shared services.

Dave Thornley has modeled costs of a range of options in preparing the paper and in identifying his recommendation. To some extent, money aside, some of the choices depend on other issues such as willingness to consider services being provided in different ways, and also in the likely long term strategy of the university generally. It will be interesting to see how the discussion unfolds.

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You will be taken to a secret location…

Monday, and I felt like I was taking part in a clandestine operation. My mission – to travel to Wiltshire to meet up with someone I’d never met or seen before, and then to travel to a secret location.

Actually, it was much less exciting than that, though still very  interesting. I was visiting the Eduserve data centre facility near Swindon, to talk to them about their service and whether it might be of interest to us.

We have a temporary breathing space in terms of our data centre needs as a result of the move to the new secondary data centre. However, in the next 12-18 months we’ll be thinking about longer term needs and how we might meet them. One of the options is to look at some kind of shared service model for our 2nd data centre. This has a number of possible advantages but specifically giving us better disaster recovery/business continuity provision by not having the two data centre so close together as they are, relatively, now. Depending on the kind of shared service, we might gain other benefits too – a purpose build and designed DC is likely to be more power and cooling efficient, therefore being both cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly.

After being met at Swindon I was taken to an anonymous-looking location outside Swindon where there was a large unmarked building that houses the facility. Unless you know about such things, you would simply mistake the building for another unremarkable logistics company, although perhaps a shy one given there is no logo or other information outside. The giveaway is the generator and, if you dodge the trip beams, the air con units.

Inside, once passed the keen security (good job I took my SHU card, I needed photo ID to get beyond Reception) there was a single door that leads to the main workings. Through this, the massive space has been deliberately planned and constructed to create individual ‘vaults’. Each of these might be able to house 4 x 20 racks and the associated cooling and other provisions needed to support things. Each of the 20-rack assemblies (called a pod) is sealed with glass across the ends and top of the racks, and cool air is blown in through underfloor grills. Not the best place to visit wearing a skirt by the by.

The vaults are constructed of material that is strong enough for someone to walk across a 6m span, and with thermodynamic properties that give 3 hour burn protection I was told. Each vault is independent of the others.

Power and data is fed from two sides of the building and each rack has redundant power and data for each element of equipment. Considerable thought has gone into making the facilities resilience and the centre runs 24/7.

A number of central Government services are supported here as well as some HE sector ones. Eduserve, a not for profit company, is now offering provision of DC services to Universities.

It was very interesting, and certainly as a model for mass DC provision you can see the merit in the approach and how it has been planned. I’m interested to see if they would be able to offer a complete data centre service – that is, the equipment as well as the serviced space.

Whilst we are some time away from looking seriously at our 10-15 year DC needs, it would be useful to understand whether this might be an option to consider when writing the new DC Strategy.

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Off to Egham

A morning of meetings and then back home to collect my bag before setting off for Egham.

Had a quick catchup with Matt for diary and related things. Then off to the Cutting Edge to meet Louise Thorpe for a regular KIT, and we discussed Enhance, assessment, SI and web strategy. A pretty full agenda for 30 minutes.

Next stop my regular KIT with Clive Macdonald. I’d drafting him a document on data security and we talked through that and what will happen with it next. We discussed a couple of other things and I briefed him on the YHMAN Board meeting last week.

Then into a really interesting and important discussion on the SAN Strategy that will shape our procurement of the replacement SAN this financial year. Some interesting options and it’s not necessarily that straightforward. We want to gain some benefits from the new SAN, particularly anything that allows us to better provision the expensive, fast disk. The work that Nik Sellars and Dave Thornley have done is really helpful in picking out those factors that are probably most important to us, and that we can use to prepare any requirements documents for potential suppliers.

Then a swift trip home to collect my overnight bag before catching the train to London and then on to Egham. I’m attending a Gartner Women CIO event tomorrow and there was a networking dinner tonight.

At the dinner I got chance to talk to the CIOs of Avon UK, BP in the UK, the V&A, and Ireland’s equivalent to British Gas, amongst others. It’s fascinating hearing about their experiences and what’s keeping them awake at night. We’re so different in some ways, as a University, and similar in some striking ways too. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, where the topic of the day is “Making and Surviving Difficult CIO Decisions”.

Anyway, off to bed now.

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