The government doesn’t know how many datacentres it owns

The government has admitted it still doesn't know how many data centres Whitehall departments own, despite claiming a new hosting joint venture with SME Ark Data Centres will save £15 million a year.

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The Cabinet Office has admitted it does not know how many data centres Whitehall departments currently own or manage in-house.

The government claimed a new hosting service launched today will save “up to” £15 million a year over seven years, and reduce Whitehall’s datacentre footprint.

However ComputerworldUK asked how many data centres Whitehall owns or runs in-house earlier this week and was told the Cabinet Office “doesn’t hold that information”.

SME Ark Data Centres won the deal to own 75 percent of the new hosting company, called ‘Crown Hosting Data Centres’. Government will own the remaining share.

The first customers are the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Highways Agency, but the Cabinet Office hopes the service will eventually cover the majority of central government’s legacy hosting needs. It is open for use by any public sector body on a ‘pay as you use’ basis.

ComputerworldUK asked the Cabinet Office how much departments currently pay for hosting but is yet to receive a response.

It is unclear how the savings figure has been calculated, given the government said it does not know how much Whitehall is spending on data centres currently or precisely what data centre services it is buying.  

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: “It doesn’t make sense for departments to host their servers in different ways and at different costs, and in the past Whitehall wasn't even sure how many of these centres there were.”

The contract is for seven years despite Cabinet Office rules introduced last year that ban any hosting deals lasting for more than two years.

Ark already provides colocation hosting services to the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence and a number of G-Cloud suppliers including Capita and Skyscape.

The Cabinet Office said it will “provide a cross-government approach to buying data hosting services” instead of individual departments paying varying amounts to build or outsource their own datacentres as part of “locked in IT contracts”.

Ark claimed the deal “complements G-Cloud” by allowing departments to unbundle large legacy contracts and consolidate the amount of data centre space they use, making it easier to move legacy infrastructure to the cloud.

Government chief technology officer Liam Maxwell restated that official policy is still ‘Cloud First’: that public sector bodies should evaluate potential cloud solutions first before any other option.

However, he said: “We do have some hosting arrangements that cannot make this transition to the cloud in the short to medium term. This tin forms a legacy estate that requires some form of ongoing hosting provision, and Crown Hosting Data Centres will provide a secure and cost effective home for those applications.”

Image credit: ©Flickr/Paul Clarke