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Thursday, 03 December 2009 09:23

Qld unis mull sharing data centre and cloud options

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Three of Queensland’s largest universities with a combined ICT budget of close to $200 million and 160,000 users between them are about to hire consultants to explore how best to shack up together – initially by sharing a data centre, although longer term more shared services and cloud offerings could be an option.

Griffith, QUT and the University of Queensland have been exploring the possibility of sharing a data centre since 2008. In the meantime three Victorian universities – RMIT, Monash and Melbourne have signed a landmark deal with Fujitsu which will host the universities’ data centres at its Noble Park facility from early in the New Year as part of a ten year, $60 million deal.

Professor Tom Cochrane, deputy vice chancellor at QUT, told iTWire “We are not as far advanced as our Victorian colleagues, but have quite similar thinking.” Cochrane will head the steering committee comprising people from the IT, finance and facilities staff at each of the three universities.

“The main driver - and not just for universities, it’s a global issue – is the cost of energy. There is no sign of Moore’s law not having an effect which affects the energy consumed and the heat generated. It becomes an engineering problem.”

Set against a backdrop of continually rising energy costs, this meant the universities had to explore all the alternatives. At the same time universities were increasingly reliant on secure, reliable and efficient technology, and by working together the universities might achieve a better outcome

Cochrane said the consultants would help the universities scope what might be possible – from a simple data centre sharing initiative where the universities shared space but not equipment to something which was ‘more than just infrastructure.”

Neal Thelander, director of IT Services for QUT, agreed that “we are following in the footsteps of our friends in Victoria. But we would like to go a step further and share the virtual infrastructure.”

Bruce Callow, the director of ICTS for Griffith University said that the University of Queensland which is the biggest of the three had a reasonably urgent need to overhaul its data centre, while Griffith had recently completed a refurbishment which had bought it some breathing space.

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Cochrane said that if QUT had not embarked on the three university project it would have had to develop another plan for its city campus where the current data centre is located.

Thelander said that the universities were not necessarily planning to build or operate a shared data centre themselves, but that “we may become anchor tenants” of a third party owned data centre, which is exactly the situation in Victoria where RMIT, Monash and Melbourne are Fujitsu’s anchor tenants for its Noble Park data centre.

Nick Tate, director of IT services at UQ said he expected the three Queensland universities would move to a shared data centre adding that the Victorian universities were an “interesting and useful validation of the idea.”

He added that the economics and improved sustainability of a shared data centre made the notion quite compelling, adding that a shared data centre for the Queensland universities would be of a similar scale to that which the Victorian universities are about to move to.

The university sector in Australia has a long history of sectoral collaboration and co-operation through the CAUDIT (Council of Australian University IT Directors) and a range of other special interest groups that have been formed among universities’ IT departments

In the $60 million deal agreed with Fujitsu the three Victorian universities have signed identical but separate contracts. Each has access to a different area of the data centre, and will own and operate its own equipment which is located there.

The Victorian universities would make the legal agreement that was nutted out available to other universities – although Fujitsu has apparently put the kybosh on the agreement being shown to universities negotiating with a Fujitsu competitor.

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