CIO

Data centre monitoring proves a business winner

Tatts Group has reduced data centre costs through smarter monitoring and reporting capabilities, writes Hamish Barwick

Data centre power consumption and cooling were generating extra costs for Brisbane-based wagering and lottery firm ,Tatts Group, until it rolled out data centre monitoring software.

The organisation runs two data centres in Brisbane located within 30 kilometres of each other. On Melbourne Cup Day 2014, one of the busiest racing days of the year, the company processed 2,500 transactions per second with one data centre handling all bets.

In 2013, Tatts Group identified the need to classify its data centre infrastructure between revenue generation, business critical and business important across both data centres.

Previously, the only way this could be achieved was to have someone walk through the data centres and check which racks were being used for which business purpose.

Realising that this was not efficient or cost effective, Tatts Group CTO, Matthew Maw, started looking for a software tool that would provide insight into the data centre’s daily operations while avoiding inefficiencies resulting from manual monitoring.

The organisation also needed to gain insight into its IT power consumption and utilisation to increase efficiency and decrease costs.

After going to market, it chose Schneider Electric’s StuxureWare for Data Centres software. The solution allows data centre owners to plan, monitor and operate their sites. The software was rolled out in early 2014.

“The single biggest improvement has been visibility. We have a very good understanding of where everything is in the data centre. Before, we would have two primary servers end up in the same rack on the same power feed,” said Maw.

Because IT staff now know where everything is in the data centre it can start to play what Maw referred to as “data centre Tetris”, fitting in servers and other hardware easily.

While Melbourne Cup Day may generate thousands of bets, this pales in comparison with the lotteries Tatts Group runs in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory.

According to Maw, a weekly $50 million lotto draw is equivalent to the takings from Melbourne Cup. If the organisation’s network went down during a wagering or lottery event, it would lose millions of dollars in revenue.

“It would be very difficult to find the right commercial contract and the right risk profile from a third party provider that can support our revenue generating functions,” he said. “Finding someone who is prepared to stand behind those from a risk or liability side of things, is at this point, impossible.” However, the organisation migrated some non-core processing applications into the cloud in late 2013.

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Making reports `sexy’

Maw and Tatts Group data centre manager, Jo Baxter, are required to provide a report to management each month about the uptime and reliability of the data centres.

“The software allows us to make these reports `sexy’ because we can produce graphs and images that have some interest,” he said.

“We can provide easy to consume, simple reports that people can look at, so they feel comfortable that we have it under control and they don’t need to worry.”

The reports also make it easier for management to understand power utilisation levels, energy consumption and how much the data centres are costing.

In addition, Maw has used the software’s heat mapping and air flow diagrams to identify problems that could be producing a big power bill.

“We can start to find some of these high impact areas that may not have good air flows. We fix one vent, and suddenly we’ve reduced our power bill,” he said.

“When you’re running big data centres, small gains still mean big numbers.”

Becoming greener is driving efficiencies, cost reductions and helping the bottom line.

“Although we have a very large turnover, we have relatively small margins. Anything that we can do to assist with that cost line does make a big difference,” Maw said.

If something goes wrong in one of the data centres, the software delivers live alerts to people’s computers and smartphones. It can tell the IT department if it is an infrastructure or power problem. According to Baxter, the project ran smoothly due to Schneider Electric data centre engineers being onsite.

“They [engineers] came in and helped us at different stages of the project. The support continues now, and I speak with them on a regular basis,” she said. “They provide us with updates on what is new with the software and what other capabilities the tool has that we should be utilising.”

The vendor also provides Tatts Group with consulting and professional services.

Building the future

Tatts Group’s next challenge is working on the future location of its data centres. Because one of the organisation’s primary data centres is in a building that has been scheduled for sale, it needs to find another data centre site over the next two years.

Maw said shutting its data centres and moving information into a private cloud is not an option of the organisation because of the sheer amount of data is handles.

However, it is considering a disaster recovery site located elsewhere in Australia or overseas. This is because both of its data centres run at the same time and are active-active, as Maw puts it.

“High volume transaction processing doesn’t like long latency between locations so that means we need to run both data centres within 30 kilometres of each other,” he said.

The data centre project is part of a strategic IT transformation that began in 2009.

In 2012, Tatts Group upgraded its storage system to reduce network outages. Since that time, its storage area network (SAN) environment has run at 100 per cent uptime, according to Maw.

Over the past two years, it has gone from 20 per cent virtualization of server hardware to 80 per cent virtualization. This is designed to reduce IT spend and improve server utilisation.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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