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EXCLUSIVE – Achieving data centre maturity according to organisational needs and requirements: there is no ‘one size fits all’

30 representatives from various government ministries and agencies in Malaysia gathered for OpenGov’s Breakfast Insight session on Leveraging the ‘Power’ of the Next Generation Data Centres held at Pullman Putrajaya on November 21 2017. Mr. Mohit Sagar, Group MD and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia provided the opening address, explaining that data is the new currency with increasing amounts of devices carrying data and that IT must no longer be seen as a cost to organisation but as an enabler of enhanced processes and services.

Mr. Andrew Sylvester, Regional Director, Digital Services & Data Centre Software, APAC and Japan, Schneider Electric IT gave the welcome address. He shared that organisations have lots of untapped data sources and these are typically in silos. The ongoing challenge is how to mine these data to improve service delivery and cut costs. Historically, data centres are located physically onsite with lots of racks, cooling and power. Now it is evolving to a hybrid architecture model, a combination of large centralised data centres and cloud-based solutions. The conventional way of how a data centre is being seen and defined is changing and organisations need to be able to manage this new hybrid world.

Data centres with lower levels of maturity typically still have humans doing the analysis but in high performance computing environments, software is needed to manage and control heat and tolerances. Information in itself does not have much value but the ability to turn information into knowledge and applying that knowledge to make improvements changes the operations of data centres. Mr. Sylvester posed the questions of where the delegates’ data centres are at on the maturity scale and he explained that it is difficult for many organisations to achieve continuous improvements for their data centres. The key is to make smaller, incremental improvements. 

Invited speaker, Mr. Joshua Au (above), Head of Data Centre, The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore, spoke about his 10-year experience in the Singapore public sector, running one of the biggest data centres in government, as well as quite a few of the smaller ones. Mr. Au said that different government agencies will have their own data centres - it could be co-owned, it could be cloud and it could also be on premise. 

Regardless of the mission of the agency and nature of their business, every data centre seems to be evolve around the same few themes – reliability, safety and security. How each agency frames their mission will then help them to focus on trying to achieve the related outcomes. 

Regardless of the level of complexity and level of maturity of data centres, Mr. Au shared that is always good to take a step back and reflect/examine if there is something to be done more and what are the things that can be improved upon. Most of the sites that Mr. Au have seen tend to have the same problems: the site is too old, lack of resources and staff and a management that does not seem to understand the challenges of the data centres. As an IT staff, the objectives need to be translated to the management in a business perspective, regardless of a bank, hospital or a government agency, the IT staff needs to relate it in a way in which management is able to understand – how the objectives contribute to the organisation’s outcomes. 

Polling and discussion 

When asked on the maturity levels of their data centre operations, 15% of the delegates polled that they are still using manual processes with limited use of software tools, 44% had contextual-aware monitoring with monitoring software installed, 37% had operational automation with monitoring and management software installed and only 4% had business optimisation with full automated processes and use of AI and advanced analytics. Mr. Au suggested that not all organisations need to achieve full business optimisation. For instance, some agencies only have 10 racks and they just hire 2 operators to monitor the operations daily. Ultimately it depends on the business case of the organisation or agency.

Some of the sites are under Mr. Au’s charge are purely manual and they have run well for 15 years and some of them are purely automated with significant amounts of investments. Mr. Sagar added that it’s not “one size fits all”, the decision has to be made based on what the organisation needs.

Ms. Siti Norbaya Bte Shaharul Anwar (above photo), Director Information Management, Department of Social Welfare Malaysia, responded that her department faced the challenges of lack of resources and manpower as Mr. Au explained earlier. Sometimes she has to explain to management that certain software and tools are compulsory for the department’s work, such as continual monitoring of the data centres. In terms of the primary driver for digitalisation in their respective agencies and businesses, 26.1% responded that changes in technology, keeping up with technology change and innovation was their main reason for doing so. 

Mr. Sylvester stated that one of the key business case drivers for digitalisation through his work with the government departments in Australia was the reduction of paper and reduction of storage in paper, which resulted in massive savings. When asked on how important data protection and sovereignty is for their respective agencies/organisations in a cloud-based and connected world, none of the delegates responded that it is very important, data needs to be 100% protected and remain in-country, on premise only. More than half (58%) indicated that important, non-sensitive machine data can be in the cloud and stored anywhere. A delegate explained that in an increasingly globalised and borderless world, once a data source is targeted by cybercriminals, there is no way to escape and the more pressing concern is the security aspect in data protection.

32% of the delegates polled currently have software for monitoring their data centre environment, IT, data centre power and devices while 28% have a monitoring solution only for the data centre’s environmental conditions. Mr. Sylvester said that in his experience, although many agencies and organisations have their own data centre monitoring systems and IT service management tools, the data is still in silos – the challenge is how to consolidate the data, to leverage on it and improve processes.   

Last but not least, 41.7% of the delegates indicated that their respective organisations and agencies are considering cloud-based data centre monitoring and management strategies for non-sensitive monitoring data only. 33.3% would only consider it for their remote sites and distributed IT rooms/closets. One of the biggest concerns in the migration towards the cloud is the issue of security in the sense of keeping data within national borders, as it will be difficult to trace the data outside the home country. In closing, Mr. Au explained that not all agencies and organisations are suited for cloud – some are suited for on premise and for those who can afford to put their data on cloud, it is an informed decision but there are different considerations. For instance, the costs are different, the subscription rates are different and even for some particular sites, they want to ‘cloud’ the data centre.

There are many ‘flavours’- some even allow for data centre data to be sent out to do analysis and it is then sent back. The trade-off for cloud is that there will be a loss of some amount of control because it is no longer on premise and there are some uncertain elements – there must be a readiness or preparation to carry out processes manually when incidents do occur.

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