Why local councils are buying up their own data centres

Clare Hopping

Thursday 28 July 2016

Over the past 12 months, four local councils have decided to tender for, or set up, their own data centre operations, potentially shunning the government’s G-Cloud platform and instead opting to take an independent approach to their infrastructure.

The latest figures around G-Cloud spending show just six per cent of local councils have bought services from the G-Cloud framework, while 80 per cent of sales have been made via central government, showing there’s a lack of interest in the public service’s cloud marketplace.

Southend Borough Council was the most recent organisation to invite companies to tender to supply, install, commission and test a data centre capability in their existing on-premise facility, and provide associated support and maintenance services on a three-year contract.

By creating “an agile and scalable network foundation and hybrid cloud capability”, the council believes it will be better able to meet staff demands for flexible and mobile working opportunities, and create a shared services platform with a reduced cost of ownership compared to its previous on-premise infrastructure.

Like many of its nationwide counterparts, Southend Council also explained it wanted to use the new data centre infrastructure to deliver its digital strategy, which it believes will enable it to expand the digital services it offers the people and businesses of Southend.

Making data more energy efficient

Solihull Council has gone one step further, launching a 24/7 data centre designed by Secure IT Environments. The new data centre will run beside its existing data centre for 12 months, but when the old infrastructure is phased out, it will improve energy efficiency and operate with a lower carbon footprint compared to its current facility.

Energy aside, it will also enable the council to scale its services, ensuring there’s enough capacity for the next 10-20 years. It will also be cheaper than solely using the government’s resources.

“We explored moving the whole data centre to the cloud, but none of the suppliers on the market, or even other authorities offering shared services, could compete on cost with building our own data centre. Over 10 years, our on-site facility will work out substantially cheaper than ‘renting’ one from the cloud,” says the council.

IT analyst Tony Lock explains that operating its own data centre will ensure the council can be more flexible with its requirements and design it to do exactly what it needs it to do.

“Building and running your own data centre allows maximum ability to design for your own specific requirements,” he says. “It comes down to what services does the council need to deliver, what services do they expect to have to provide going forward, and how are such services currently made available.”

He adds that although many of the services required might be available from the government’s G-Cloud suppliers, some of the functions the council needs are likely to be missing.

Casting the net wider than local councils

From a county-wide perspective, however, there’s likely to be a bigger jump to the cloud in general, moving away from in-house data centres because they don’t provide the scope of services needed to run a fully-digitised council.

David Wilde, executive director for place operations and CIO at Essex County Council, says they plan to get rid of two of its data centres, instead taking its data elsewhere.

“There has been a positive movement in the managed service arena in terms of running line-of-business systems in the case of local government and social care, where they are sufficiently commoditised or packaged managed services so that we don’t need to have our own anymore,” he explains.

Learn more: Isle of Anglesey county Council (case study)

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