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Monday, 14 February 2011 16:22

Telstra struggles to keep data centres operating


Telstra is struggling to keep its older data centres operating even as it positions itself as a major cloud computing provider.

One of the telecommunications giant's Melbourne data centres for example is riddled with concrete cancer and systems installed in the centre are now failing regularly. Speaking at Cebit's Future Proofing Your Data Centre conference in Sydney today, Telstra's managed data centre general manager Jon Curry outlined a range of major challenges the organisation was currently facing in terms of keeping its data centres operating efficiently.

For example, a series of 'skunkwork' data centres has developed inside the company's network exchanges, outside the oversight of the main data centre management.  Mr Curry said; 'BigPond will turn to us and say 'within a fortnight we will need 1000 servers'. If we say they can't then they will go and build them in a network exchanges.

'So we have got buildings in the city with large BigPond infrastructures,' which are outside the data centre network proper. In addition it has other data centres which have reached their use-by date.

'One in Melbourne used to be an old salt factory'¦that's got concrete cancer and 300mm raised floors that are full of cables. The chillers are 30 years old'¦and the place is starting to fail regularly,' said Mr Curry, which he acknowledged was expensive on the company's operating budget.

While he has implemented a number of advanced data centre management tools and practices to improve the situation Mr Curry is still uncovering significant inefficiencies in the data centre network.

'I walked into the Victorian data centre last week. There were six servers racked which had never been cabled but they were turned on and had been there for three years.'

Mr Curry also acknowledged the high level of water use in Telstra's data centres, which is an increasingly expensive commodity. In Sydney for example almost 90,000 litres of fresh water is flushed through the cooling tower drains each week to clean them, and that water goes straight into the sewer.

The total daily water use in one Sydney facility was 155,000 litres according to Mr Curry.

While the Melbourne data centre had a reserve tank which collected and reused the water used to flush the cooling tower drains that was not available in Sydney. He said that while Telstra had run projects to examine how to save water 'the cost benefit analysis for Telstra does not stack up.'

As a result of launching its enterprise class cloud computing initiative late last year Telstra is now critically reliant on its data centre network. Mr Curry said that data centres were now generally so important to all enterprises that they needed to become 'front and centre of IT strategy.'

And despite Telstra's cloud push Mr Curry cautioned against a wholesale outsourcing of data centre operations.  In what Telstra's cloud marketers might consider heresy Mr Curry noted that; 'Telstra is a cloud provider so it's good for us'¦but if the cloud does not have the silver lining the hype meisters are talking about, where do you go when you want to come back out?'

Over the last three years the company has significantly invested in tools to better measure and monitor its data centre operations, whether in official data centres or in 'skunkworks' out in the network exchanges. Mr Curry said that the company now had a 'good understanding' of about 95 per cent of its IT load.

As a result of an internal  reorganisation late last year it also had better visibility of its entire technology footprint, acknowledging that previously Telstra had 'traditionally not considered network centres as data centres,' even if they were providing fundamental services to certain business units such as in the Big Pond case.

He said that ultimately Telstra wanted to merge all its data network centres under a single profile.

Telstra now 'knows where all the equipment is' and had a two to three year timetable to fully wrangle control of all computing operations according to Mr Curry.



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