Faced with data growth of 90 per cent annually in just two years, the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia (DAFWA) turned to virtualisation and a private cloud to find a way to cope.
The agency provides information services to food producers in the state, as well as marketing agricultural and food achievements. DAFWA information systems infrastructure manager, Rolf Ulrich, said it initially expected 70 per cent data growth per year and had designed its storage infrastructure around those figures.
“It became clear we had grown a lot more than that,” he said.
One big reason for the large data volumes is DAFWA’s role in getting information out to farmers and other industry stakeholders.
“We want to make the agricultural sector in WA more profitable. This means the government gets more back in taxes, so it’s a win-win situation,” he said. “We produced a lot more data and put it on the corporate system so this can be published and accessible by external and internal sources.”
There were also pockets of data on various hard drives that needed to be dealt with. To tackle the issue, the DAWFA consolidated its data assets using virtualisation. Today, 98 per cent of the department’s computing is virtualised.
Following its $3.6 million storage and infrastructure upgrade in mid-2013, DAFWA is also running its core systems and applications in a private cloud.
“It [private cloud] gives us the opportunity to host services for third parties, namely smaller departments around WA. We already have the Forestry Production Commission located in our area,” said Ulrich.
The Department of Fisheries may also potentially look to host its services in DAFWA’s private cloud. Having set the cloud foundations in place, DAFWA is in the process of deploying a new service desk and change management system, which will be hosted in the private cloud environment.
“We need to have a basic service desk logging tool and we had no real change management system.
We used the capabilities of a document management system called Objective to create a change management system that will work for us,” Ulrich explained.
In addition, DAFWA has made progress with a business systems program which began in 2013. At the time, it had 278 applications and needed to consolidate this number. Since then, the applications have been reduced by 50 per cent.
“While some of them may have been core applications, the truth is that a lot of them were access database applications that sat on someone’s desktop or were only used in a remote office,” Ulrich said.
The remaining applications are being rolled into DAFWA’s Oracle database platform.
Another IT function that has been reduced is email box sizes. A few years ago, each email had capacity of up to 20 gigabytes, creating significant storage costs. By using CommVault’s disk-to-disk backup and restore, DAFWA was able to reduce mailbox sizes down to 1GB with a couple of approved exceptions, Ulrich said.
DAFWA’s data recovery time improved, while unplanned down time was cut back to 18 hours a year. However, the IT department had a tough job convincing DAFWA staff to archive their emails.
“We had to say to people: ‘This email you haven’t accessed in 18 months, do you really need to have it available within 1 second or is 10 seconds good enough when it’s archived?’” said Ulrich.
The next IT project on Ulrich’s list is deploying voice over IP (VoIP) to improve communications capability by the end of 2015.
“This [VoIP] is something we are able to do quite easily because we have the platform following the infrastructure refresh. We don’t have to worry about network or storage capability,” he said.
DAFWA was faced with massive data growth as it strives to get more information to farmers and industry.
A private cloud, virtualisation and reducing email storage sizes have helped to fix the issue and opened a new platform for innovation.