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Farming data in the cloud

The Department of Agriculture and Food in WA has replaced its storage systems and is now preparing to implement a private cloud, reports Hamish Barwick
DAFWA director of information systems, Brian Hudson (left), and ICT operations manager, Larry Simon

DAFWA director of information systems, Brian Hudson (left), and ICT operations manager, Larry Simon

Legacy storage infrastructure was holding the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia (DAFWA) back from new IT projects until it began a $3.6 million storage upgrade in mid-2013.

The agency provides information services to food producers and manufacturers in the state, as well as marketing agricultural and food achievements.

DAFWA director of information systems, Brian Hudson, said the department had “underinvested” in IT, which was causing a lot of issues. “We were having challenges maintaining continuity and availability,” he said.

DAFWA ICT operations manager, Larry Simon, said most of the storage infrastructure was more than six years old and approaching end-of-life. “The problem wasn’t only the components but the underlying architecture. For example, a single Nortel switch was 11 years old and purchased second-hand. This was extremely risky for the organisation,” he explained.

After a detailed review process, DAFWA selected Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS) 130 with TrueCopy replication. This has allowed it to replicate data from the primary data centre site in South Perth to its secondary data centre operated by Fujitsu.

“Business continuity was our first priority so we wanted automatic failover and then recovery if the failover failed,” said Simon.

Thanks to the new technology, the DAWFA IT team can now guarantee uptime of 99.8 per cent in a 365/24 environment for information services. In addition, core systems downtime per year has been reduced from as much as 160 hours to 18 hours.

“Now, if email crashes it is back in seconds when it used to be down for hours,” said Simon. DAFWA mobile users have also been able to access systems remotely following the implementation of bring-your-own-device and app policies. Simon added its new infrastructure environment has made it easier to integrate new equipment and access systems from tablets and other mobile devices.

“Because we now have a strong element of standardisation, our IT support staff can concentrate more on value add and what our customers see as valuable,” he said.

In addition, information systems have changed from being a cost centre to a business enabler. “No matter what challenges we face, we remain focused on an approach that delivers the highest possible value to businesses and landholders within the agriculture and food sector,” Simon said.

With the storage upgrade has been completed, DAFWA is looking at opportunities around private cloud to solve other internal business challenges, such as the proliferation of IT that wasn’t implemented by his department.

“The behaviours that allow some of our researchers to be agile in developing tools and providing services to customers are also contrary to good security and practices,” Hudson said. “By having a private cloud container, we could allow some of that agility to still go on with governance in place.”

While the private cloud strategy hasn’t been rolled out yet, DAFWA is in talks with the WA government about its impact.

“Data governance in a specific location can be mitigated by explaining that it is a private cloud located within one of our data centres rather than spread across the globe,” Hudson pointed out.

The work doesn’t stop there. DAFWA is also embarking on a business systems improvement program which it claims will transform IT within the department. “Because we’ve got high quality storage and availability, we are building data warehousing and trying to make the data diffused through the organisation coherent,” said Hudson.

Simon’s main caveat with cloud computing is the security risk. He advised CIOs to make sure data is secure, wherever it is stored. “You need to look at it [cloud] on a case-by-case basis. Does it fit with your requirements or your cost model?” he asked.

“People are running to the cloud like it’s a cheap excuse for not having to make the hard decisions themselves.”

Hudson said undertaking due diligence is “doubly important” for government CIOs as their agencies get audited. “We need to do the hard yards in understanding what services we are procuring and using.”

Problem: The Department of Agriculture and Food WA had ageing storage infrastructure that was causing availability problems

Solution: Undertaking a $3.6 million storage upgrade has allowed the department to improve sustainability and security

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More about: Department of Agriculture, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Hudson, Nortel
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