Cloud central to Oxfam IT overhaul



news The Australian division of relief and development organisation Oxfam has revealed plans to conduct a substantial fundamental IT infrastructure refresh project which will see a number of traditional in-house IT services replaced with new cloud computing technologies.

The news arrived this week courtesy of a media release issued by local firm Thomas Dureya Consulting, which has landed much of the work involved in the migration. The project is slated to kick off in mid-October this year and will involve a refresh of two datacentres, which had last seen hardware, software and services overhauls back in 2008. The technology and infrastructure involved in the current setup was approaching end of life or end of lease in June this year.

The first datacentre will have its infrastructure refreshed (including its virtualisation environment), with disaster recovery functionality being shifted into the cloud. The second datacentre will be decommissioned and public-facing servers migrated to the cloud.

In its statement, Thomas Duryea said it secured 70 percent of the total project’s scope of work, through a hybrid cloud solution to refresh production infrastructure and connect to the firm’s own cloud services for disaster recovery and backup,  as part of what it described as a “strategic stepping stone” ahead of a move to fully hosted environment in four years time.

As part of the data centre refresh Thomas Duryea upgraded Oxfam’s storage infrastructure to EMC VNX5300 with three nines availability – twice the storage capacity of the existing solution – as well as replacing IBM servers for Cisco UCS servers. Oxfam’s virtualised environment was also upgraded to VMware VSphere 5.1, delivering “considerable management, performance and efficiency gains through centralised management of all virtual machines”.

Thomas Duryea also extended its Managed Services agreement which the firm already already had in place with Oxfam, supporting the agency with an enterprise service desk facility for the primary site core infrastructure.

As part of Oxfam’s aim to begin transitioning to a hybrid cloud solution, Thomas Duryea said it would replace Oxfam’s existing on-site tape library with its back-up-as-a-service solution, replace a traditional on-premise disaster recovery model with TD’s DR-as-a-service solution as well as providing an infrastructure-as-a-service offering to support test and development scenarios.

Oxfam Australia technical infrastructure manager Grant Holton-Picard said Oxfam Australia reviewed the project’s cost scope across the previous four years. “Through the project, we aim to reduce the total cost of ownership of systems across the next four years compared to the associated systems and services of the previous four,” he said in TD’s statement. “Further to this, we aim to reduce the complexity of the environment to enable ease of management within the existing Oxfam Technology Services team.”

“Based on the full tri-partner approach including Thomas Duryea Consulting’s awarded share, we expect a 20 percent saving in costs, over the next four years. This is a great result, as it means we will be able to put more back into our fight against global poverty,” he said.

Holton-Picard praised the IT services firm, noting it had had a track record of delivering services to Oxfam. “Thomas Duryea has been delivering managed services to Oxfam Australia for the last four years,” he said. “During this time, Thomas Duryea Consulting’s appointed team fostered a fantastic work partnership with Oxfam Australia’s Technology Services team.”

“Key to our decision in awarding Thomas Duryea the majority scope of work was really our satisfaction and trust in their technical expertise and experience to be able to deliver a successful project,” he said.

Setting aside all the PR guff here involving Thomas Duryea (no doubt Oxfam was able to get a substantial discount on the firm’s services courtesy of its charity status and its willingness to say kind words about TD in media releases), there’s some very interesting aspects to this overhaul.

For starters, we’re seeing what I consider to be a very important and likely growing trend within IT departments: The continual migration of non-production services to the cloud. In this case, we’re seeing Oxfam’s on-side tape library canned and its functionality migrated into the cloud. And we’re also seeing its disaster recovery functionality shifted into the cloud. And, as is normal these days, we’re also seeing Oxfam test and development functions shifted into the cloud.

If you consider the way many large or even medium-sized organisations run their IT infrastructure, it’s common to have two datacentres; a production facility where most resources are invested, and a secondary, less capable facility which hosts core DR functionality to get things working in the event that the first datacentre fails, as well as functions such as off-site backup.

In Oxfam’s case, Thomas Duryea has been able to successfully convince the organisation to simply get rid of its second datacentre entirely, entrusting the functions previously held there to TD’s own cloud computing infrastructure (likely based on top of a local datacentre operated by a major player such as Telstra) instead.

This is a very significant move. It’s been normal for quite some time now for large organisations to run test and dev from the cloud, and we’ve also seen unified communications infrastructure increasingly move that way. But now the adoption of cloud computing technologies is encroaching into other areas of the business as well, as enterprise IT analysts have long predicted would happen. As organisations gain confidence with the cloud, and standardise their infrastructure around it, they get comfortable shifting more and more services that way.

How long will it be before Oxfam moves everything into the cloud? Well, if you believe TD’s media release, four years. But I would bet that things will increasingly shift that way sooner.

And this is a great thing. Organisations such as Oxfam really have no business running their own IT infrastructure; this is very far indeed from being their core competency. The more such infrastructure can be outsourced and managed by other people, in an affordable manner, the more Oxfam can focus on its own core competency — fundraising and development work. In such organisations, which have very little competitive differentiation when it comes to technology, the natural role of the CIO will increasingly be to act as a ‘broker’ of IT services, and a project manager or advisor to internal projects involving technology — but not as an IT service provider themselves. I suspect we’ll see more and more of what TD is doing with Oxfam in future.

Image credit: Fred Fokkelman, royalty free


  1. Hmmm … really? Much of this announcement seems simply to be an organization deepening its long-term contracted relationship with an existing managed services provider isn’t it? Sure, we expect any managed service provider to be transitioning to modern virtualized and automated infrastructure management practices over the next four years … how would they survive otherwise?

    Public websites transitioned to AWS … ahh … now I see a cloud services story in there.

    I really think we need to ban use of the phrase “the cloud” because it encourages loose thinking. You could, I think, do a ‘find&replace’ in the article to swap “the cloud” for “managed services” and it would read the same.

    There is no such thing as “the cloud” when we are talking about enterprise ICT. This kind of fluffy loose language doesn’t really help us much. Perhaps in 5-10 years we will genuinely be able to refer to “the cloud” as a seamless computing service where the specifics of vendor names and service offerings etc. are irrelevant. In the meantime, however, we should stick to talking about “cloud services”.

    “Cloud services” are specific, tangible, services provided by a contracted counter-party. We judge their trustworthiness and quality by the credibility of the vendor and the specifics of the service offering in terms of the maturity of its evolution from being a dedicated outsourced service to being a genuine and mature cloud service (i.e characterised by attributes such as scalability, multi-tenancy; robust business continuity; iterative evolution; SOA & open APIs; Internet-age security; mobile device access support; user self-service; usage-based charging, service quality certification, transparent service performance reporting, independently audited service performance, etc.)

    Enough with “the cloud” already … maybe? ;-)

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