Why local government needs a collaborative approach to data centres
Thu 15 Sep 2016
At the end of 2015, the then Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, said council funding would be reduced by 6.7% between 2016 and 2020. Not only does this put further pressure on local government schemes, such as adult social care and child support services, but councils are going to have to prioritise where they spend the money even more. Getting the most value from every pound is vital, which means councils may need to look at alternative ways of approaching key areas such as data storage.
Most councils need to upgrade their data centres. Typically built in the 1980s, the majority of facilities are out-dated and run inefficiently as, due to on-going government spending cuts, there isn’t enough investment available to upgrade. Consequently, the majority of local authority data centres are a generation or so behind commercial standards.
As society has become more digitalised the information being held online is more time-critical, sensitive and needs to be secure
To be fair, few of us would have predicted the changes that have taken place over the past 30 years in terms of technology, and at the time the facilities may well have been leading edge. However, with an increasing reliance on online data, they are simply no longer able to support data storage needs.
The changing face of government-held data
Traditionally each district, borough or council tends to have its own on-premise server room; this is partly due to culture and also due to a concern that any other solution might compromise security. However, the increase in the volume and the sensitivity of data being held means that this approach is no longer tenable, and councils need to rethink and find a more cost-effective and up-to-date approach.
Initially, local government data mainly consisted of telephone numbers and addresses, but as society has become more digitalised the information being held online is more time-critical, sensitive and needs to be secure.
To offer a snapshot, councils now store census information, medical information, tax information, accounts and social care information on their servers. They may have invested in an IT refresh to handle the increase in data but what they haven’t got is the funds to upgrade the infrastructure.
And it is only moving in one direction; as technology continues to rapidly advance and the government continues to cut council budgets, the data centres will only become more outdated and less able to cope.
It is essential that facilities are designed from the outset to allow for upgrades in line with technology and capacity requirements
Communal data centres in government
One solution is to create shared data centres between adjacent councils. For example, three adjoining boroughs of London, say, Islington, Haringey and Camden, would join together and invest in one shared data centre. This provides a number of cost-saving efficiencies resulting in a secure, optimised facility at a significantly lower cost.
A bigger data centre doesn’t necessarily cost more to build or run as there is an economy of scale. The increasing price of land per square foot means it is much more cost-effective to group data centres together and pool resources, saving councils time and money. By implementing physical and logical security solutions within the data centre, each borough could be assured that their data is only accessible by them.
In light of continuing government cuts, an increase in governance and regulation of data, as well as the digitalisation of society, this problem is only going to get worse. Technology advances every six to nine months, therefore it is essential that facilities are designed from the outset to allow for upgrades in line with technology and capacity requirements with zero disruption or risk.
When it comes to data centres, organisations should constantly review their facilities using intelligent monitoring and facility audits. Hiring a fresh pair of eyes that can identify and implement any necessary upgrades can help organisations achieve significant improvements in terms of efficiency, reliability and cost.
Local authorities must act fast. While councils should assess a range of solutions, as a template, taking into account the price of space as well as the investment involved in building and maintaining a new data centre, a more collaborative approach is a much more viable way for councils to face data challenges moving forward.