Monday, 28 August 2017 16:36

Mornington Peninsula Shire goes hybrid cloud

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Mornington Peninsula Shire has revamped its IT environment with a Dell hybrid cloud system and the increasing use of SaaS.

Mornington Peninsula Shire chief information officer Martin Hopley joined the organisation about two years ago, inheriting a technology environment that hadn't seen much recent investment.

The GIS (geographical information system) was some eight years old, he told iTWire, the property and ratings systems were dated, and telephony was still PABX-based.

So, much of his effort has been aimed at getting the Shire onto a good technology foundation.

Projects included a complete LAN refresh, partial replacement of microwave links with fibre, moving to VoIP, the deployment of tablets running Windows 10, and a move from VMware to a Dell hybrid cloud system.

A significant problem with the VMware-based system was that disaster recovery was a complex procedure documented in a two-volume manual. Single applications could not be failed over, only the entire site, and the need to change applications' IP addresses complicated the process.

The Dell-based hybrid cloud system allows failover between the Rosebud and Mornington sites, or to Azure. (At this stage, back-up to Azure is happening at weekends due to bandwidth limitations that will be overcome in due course.)

One complication is that Rosebud is deemed to be "regional" rather than "metropolitan" when it comes to communications, which means higher costs. Moving workloads into the cloud has increased the telco bill by 50%, Hopley said.

Some technical issues were encountered.

Hopley's team used PlateSpin to migrate from VMware to Hyper-V, but found some performance issues arising from legacy network and disk adaptor software being carried across from the old environment.

Also, the run books (PowerShell libraries) provided by Dell were very generic and required some modifications. For example, one assumed that the FQDN (fully qualified domain name) and the NetBIOS name were identical.

Another snag was that some of the virtual appliances used for the phone system will only run on VMware, not Hyper-V. So "we just ran up a couple of pizza boxes with VMware standard, and replicated between the two," Hopley said. This only affects a small number of appliances, none of which are business-critical, he observed.

Early in his tenure, Hopley realised the organisation had paid for too few licences for certain pieces of software, so he worked with Dell and Microsoft to determine the most appropriate licensing for the shire's plans.

He also negotiated a deal to move directly to that state rather than being forced into buying additional licences to bring the old situation into compliance.

The Windows 10 rollout means council employees have "the latest tech, the stuff they're used to at home", he observed.

But it's not just about keeping employees happy: the tablets incorporate 4G technology, so data collected in the field goes straight into the relevant systems. Previously, it had to be entered manually back at the office.

A related advantage of Dell Hybrid Cloud System for Microsoft is that it can be used to manage desktop systems, allowing the Shire to deploy Windows 10 and Office 365 without using Microsoft SCCM. It's "the nirvana of CIO dreams... no-one has administrator rights on their PC", and deploying a single image keeps things simple: "if it's broken for one, it's broken for all", said Hopley.

The growing use of SaaS alongside the Dell hybrid system means "I don't have to worry about keeping the lights on", he said.

"I'm never going to get everything off premises," he concedes, but it means his team can spend less time running IT and more time showing the business how it can use IT.

"Office 365 is a classic example," with new features appearing almost weekly. "We actually turned some features off until we figured out how to use them."

Different employee demographics want to consume information differently, so "we've empowered the various business units to do it (their own way)".

But IT isn't allowing important information to be hidden away in silos with limited visibility. While OneDrive might be used as working storage, an on-premises document and records management system still exists to ensure finalised information is searchable by everyone.

"That's going to be the trick for a lot of things," said Hopley.

The existing finance system is around 17 years old, and lacks features that are standard in modern systems, such as automatic bank reconciliation. Furthermore, the Shire is "data rich but information poor" in this area, as the software has a fixed chart of accounts and is not able to generate reports of particular purposes, such as a profit and loss reports for a specific service, or the reports required by the state government.

Similar problems are seen in human resources, payroll, asset management, program and project management, and so on, he said, so Peninsula Shire and three other councils have jointly gone to market for replacement systems.

The savings achieved from modernising IT (including the use of cloud services) can be ploughed back into the community in the form of new capital works and improvements to existing facilities, and the new systems help deliver great customer service, said Hopley.

But, he observed, CIOs' jobs are never done. They must keep thinking "What will my job be in three to five years? What's the next piece of value I can add?"

Image: Simon Yeo [CC BY 2.0]

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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