Data Centre Serves the Australian Government

Data Centres had their beginning several decades ago when companies installed big computers called ‘mainframes’ and found that their computers were idle most of the time. They looked for other companies that would rent time on their main frames because the main frames were expensive.

In the 1980′s, numbers of smaller computers (now called ‘servers’) acting together replaced the big mainframes. This ‘client/server’ technology was easier to configure and manage and reduced unused computer power and storage. It allowed small companies to create their own server rooms. As generic software became more and more available to small businesses, the server rooms became larger and took more people to manage them and more dedicated infrastructure such as air-conditioners and on-site generators. Costs began to increase.

Companies and government agencies recognised the need for independent off-site, dedicated Data Centres which could take the burden of network administration off their shoulders. The concept of a data centre is attractive, but not necessarily applicable to every situation. The organisation needed to do a cost/benefit analysis and decide whether or not to have an in-house business or government data centre.

These Data Centres consisted (and still consist) of hardware (servers, switches, routers, cables, modems), environmental components (air-conditioning, humidity control, fire alarms and fire suppression systems), security (entry systems that required authentication, cameras to record people and incidents, software to prevent intrusions) and continuity (backup software and hardware which may be located off site, uninterruptible power supplies, adequate bandwidth in terms of size and reliability and talented staff).

Data Centres are judged by their capabilities in terms of performance, investment required to create and maintain them and return on investment earned by the Data centre. Three models came out of Data centre operation, each seeking better efficiency. The first model had specific servers assigned to handle the operations of one business. This created waste since it was built to deal with the peak demand from the business and during off-peak hours, some of the servers sat idle. The second business model centred on the software inside the servers and used widely accepted software titles. They rented out time on the software rather than the server. Storage was simpler because all of the data was in the same format. The third model combined the first two. Data centres offered individual computer space for each business as well as standardised software for rent by using special software that eliminated the barriers between the servers. A job for a single company could take half of one server and a quarter of two other servers and appear to be a single ‘virtual’ server.

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Data centres occupy one of four tiers in terms of their capabilities. Each tier includes the contents of the preceding tier and adds new abilities of its own. The first tier is simply a set of servers, communication lines and components without redundancy. The second tier adds storage redundancy or data backup capability. The third includes backup power generators and multiple communication lines. The fourth requires a redundant cooling system. This is expensive because the Data Centre has to install massive diesel backup generators with hardware and software for seamless switchovers.

Macquarie Telecom is currently in the process of constructing a data centre in Canberra, called the IC4 Bunker (more information on government data centre on their webpage). Macquarie is working with the Australian government in their effort to improve security by reducing the number of internet gateways used by government agencies from 124 to 8. Macquarie’s initial contribution is being done with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

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