Efficient Storage for Green IT

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Two news items have caught the attention this week, and both brought the John Lennon and Paul McCartney penned Beatles classic “The Fool on the Hill” to mind (more specifically the line “Well on his way, his head in a cloud”).

One piece compares data centers with rock stars and the second, globally reported, contained President Obama’s $3.8 trillion 2011 budget blueprint designed to pull the US economy’s deficit out of the danger zone.

Although the headlines might appear unrelated, the actual content of both pieces reveal two sides of the same coin. The coin being Cloud computing.

On one side we have the private sector investing heavily in the ‘sexy’ future of computing by plowing millions into new data centers (Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc) and on the other we have the public sector seeking to cut costs and balance the books by reducing its dependence on in-house IT infrastructure. A potentially heady mix of supply and demand or to put it another way: an opportunity for companies to make money and politicians to win votes.

Not that this is particularly groundbreaking stuff, nor should it fill the hearts of the tax payer with joy, given that ‘bandwagon’ and ‘politician’ are two words that are not entirely unknown bedfellows.

The recent past is littered with statements from well intentioned politicos claiming that technology will reduce costs, drive inward investment and deliver benefits to every citizen – data centers in Iceland and Tasmania anyone? - with reality proving the complete opposite (the UK has apparently recently wasted £26BN on a series of botched IT projects for systems that have suffered severe delays, run millions of pounds over budget or have been canceled altogether – equivalent to half the budget for Britain’s schools).

President Obama’s budget commentary was equally scathing when it stated: “The Federal Government spends tens of billions of dollars on information technology [IT], but fragmentation, poor project execution, and the drag of legacy technology has not delivered the productivity and performance gains to government that are found when IT is deployed effectively in the private sector.”

It’s not hard to see why this situation arises. Politicians need to promise big results within the four or five year election cycle and announcements are made about IT projects with very little understanding or consultation over whether they are technically feasible, financially viable or even required. The very nature of the political beast usually ensures that the person who kick-starts a project or makes the grandstanding statements is never around long enough to see the fruits of their labors, leaving someone else to pick up the pieces.

But this ‘great idea that never delivers’ approach does not just apply to the private sector, many companies, particularly in the IT industry, have traipsed the well worn ‘if you build it they will come’ optimistic path (great movie line, lousy business plan) to unimaginable riches, and managed to fail on many levels – Vonage, Iridium and Zune to name but three from the noughties.

So what’s different about the Cloud? Shouldn’t we be worried that this term is now being used in the world’s corridors of power as freely as ‘digital divide’, ‘re-orienting operations’ and ‘e-learning’ and that its simply the latest buzz?

On the tangible evidence to date, the answer might just be no.

A politician, even with limited technical knowledge, is not going to struggle too hard to understand the efficiencies, cost savings and avoidance of future cost that the cloud offers, nor the fact that there are many capable companies ready and willing to assist them (as opposed to convincing them that they need their solutions).

Back in 2009, President Obama appointed a Government CIO Vivek Kundra to manage the US’s IT transformation. Speaking at an early press event, Kundra nailed his colours to the cloud by stating that the US Government could save money by using many of the Web-based technologies. He followed this up with the example of the U.S. Transport Safety Administration (TSA) spending $600K to set up a blog which a consumer can create for free.

“If in our lives, we can go online and provision Webmail within a matter of minutes, why must the government spend billions and billions of dollars on information that may not be sensitive in nature?” he said at the time. It is this line of questioning, and the answers gained, which has obviously had an influence on this week’s US Budget blueprint.

The White House is seeking to reduce its data center estate from 1,100, up from 432 in 1998, through cloud and virtualisation technologies, and it intends to do so without additional cost. The US Labor Department, and the 22 agencies under its umbrella, is leading the way. It is now using a cloud system built by Global Computer Enterprises (GCE) for the outsourcing of its department’s data storage as part of a seven-year, $50 million contract to revamp its financial management system. Likewise the Department of Homeland Security continues to migrate applications and systems from 24 data centers to two enterprise-wide data centers as part of a project to improve disaster recovery options.

Across the pond, the UK Government has weighed into the cloud with a similar public declaration. It will - not intends - consolidate hundreds of data centers to approximately ten or 12, resulting in an estimated saving of £300 million, and a 75 per cent reduction in power and cooling. At the same time, it intends to launch a G-Cloud Central Applications store that will in effect be an internal ‘pay as you use’ marketplace, speeding up procurement and delivering savings of £500 M annually. (No doubt modelled on the last year’s Apps.gov, an online storefront where US Government agencies can buy online applications from companies such as Google and Salesforce.com with other services such as storage, Web hosting, and virtual machines being offered eventually.)

One of the arguments suggested by organisations that are reluctant to adopt or consider cloud is that they view it more as an integration technology or as a simple extension of their existing set up. What the recent political announcements show is that cloud can offer the ability to completely transform how services are managed and delivered and provides the flexibly to address some of the unique challenges that the business, in this case - the world’s economies, are facing.

This adoption of cloud is not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take years to challenge, and address, some of the traditional attitudes that exist, particularly around security and outsourcing, but it’s on the move and it’s virtually unstoppable. When Rock and Roll started out in 1950’s it faced the similar attitudes, with one critic famously writing in 1956: “Rock and roll. Not arf!'

More Stories By Phil Worms

Phil is a 30 year IT industry veteran with a passion for education and has personally led many school and higher education initiatives designed to engage young people and showcase the broad range of exciting and fulfilling roles in IT.

A full and varied career has seen Phil move through various senior product/project and marketing positions with companies as diverse as Centrica plc, One.Tel, VarTec Telecom and iomart Group plc. Phil is working on a project to create an intergenerational social hub that will celebrate creativity and achievement in Helensburgh, birthplace of television pioneer John Logie Baird.The Heroes Centre will provide people of all ages with the new media and content creation skills required to engage fully in the digital world. Follow his progress on Twitter and on Facebook

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