Monday, 28 September 2015

IT System Outages - an inevitability ?

Looking back over the past few years there have been some very high profile outages affecting Ebay, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, to name but a few. Such outages are inevitable, simply because IT is dependent on so many factors - many outwith the control of the provider. The challenge however is getting people to accept this! In the past there was a tolerance to such events - the mere mention of a system being unavailable now makes twitter within minutes.

At the University we work hard to provide services with high availability, however from time to time we will suffer from outages.  This can be as a result of many things including human error, equipment failure, malicious acts or a power outage. What worries me most is that people have become so dependent on IT within their business processes they can no longer function without it. This is not a good position to be in especially if you consider it from a business continuity perspective. Even with resilient infrastructure, backup power and a variety of other measures in place to make systems resilient, failure is inevitable.

Even in high availability and mission critical applications there are so many factors that can impact an information system that even with high levels of resilience built in we have to accept at some point a system may not be available.

Part of the challenge as we all embark on digital transformation programmes is how we educate our business colleagues in business continuity as we cant always depend on the information system being available. A mixture of sourcing strategies can help this by adopting cloud and hybrid solutions, implementing resilient internet connectivity and having robust change controls. IT leaders have been traditionally measured on uptime, availability and integrity of systems and to this end try very very hard to achieve as near to 100% as possible. Whether a further measure of how quick we can respond to outages would be useful remains to be seen.

With such a significant migration to cloud based services a whole new area is emerging, perhaps a re-badging of previous similar solutions, which look at service continuity where a cloud service becomes unavailable. Today I have been reviewing the market for email continuity services. Where in the past we might have looked at solutions which involved DR services or the bringing to site a portacabin full of equipment we now look to the Cloud to secure another Cloud service.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Moving to "The Cloud" - my perspective

This week I attended Computing's Data Centre & Infrastructure Summit 2015. Overall an excellent event and really good content and speakers. A must attend event for anyone involved in DC or Infrastructure provision.

As a panel member we discussed some of the challenges and lessons learned for organisations considering a move to using cloud services to deliver all or part of their IT requirements.

As the maturity of all forms of cloud offerings continues to improve some of the earlier challenges, perceived or otherwise, have been removed. Barriers to adoption included data sovereignty, security and availability all of which have now been addressed in some way as cloud offerings have evolved.

Psychologically however we still face organisational challenges when introducing services where the data does not reside on premise. There is still a perception amongst some that the cloud is insecure. At the event I commented on this and clarified that I would still not be comfortable placing all of the organisational data in the cloud as we are not yet in a position to provide cast iron guarantees that its secure - however, we cant do that regardless of where it resides! Many cloud based providers have in place far better security and controls than many organisational based solutions.

I also discussed how colocation might increase your opex costs by 15-20% when compared with on premise based approach. The reason for this is obvious and the use of colocation, in my opinion,should not be driven by cost savings (maybe Capex savings if you need to build a new data centre for example) but co-location can improve the service - as colo providers do this for a living, have 24x7 support, multiple internet connections, backup power and purpose built secure facilities - worth the extra money if that's what your business needs. Therefore, I would argue that its a commercial decision and not one for IT who of course will advise.  Ultimately like moving to a cloud service a risk based approach is needed.

As recent research has shown a hybrid approach is a more common place for organisations to be at this time. A mixture of on and off premise services. A good toe in the water approach for anyone considering cloud for their organisation.

Where a public cloud service is available to meet a business requirement it will almost inevitably be cheaper than a private cloud or colocation solution. This is simply based on economies of scale. Any decision to do this must include a robust contract and significant up front and ongoing due diligence.

To summarise, horses for courses when it comes to making the decision between public, private, hybrid, colocation or on premise.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The only University in the world... 4 star SDI accreditation

Regular readers of my blog will have followed us on our journey with the Service Desk Institute (SDI) certification process since May 2012.    I am thrilled to report that following our third and final audit, we have achieved the top prize of FOUR STARS!  I am very proud of my team who have embraced continuous service improvement - for the benefit of the University community who use our IT services.  Over the year, we have been approached by universities and organisations from all over the world who are keen to find out more about how we have delivered change and service improvement. 

Press Release: 

Seeing stars

University IT rated best in world with new award

The University of St Andrews is seeing stars after being awarded a top honour for its IT provision.

St Andrews is the first University in the world to be accredited with a 4-star Service Desk Certification by the sector’s professional body. The award from the Service Desk Institute (SDI) paves the way for the University to lead the way in setting ‘exceptionally high’ standards in IT for fellow universities across the world.

SDI is the leading professional body for the IT service and support industry. The four-star rating was awarded following a rigorous two-and-a-half year auditing programme.  The period saw the University improve its audit score on each of the nine measured concepts, during each of the annual audits (December 2012, 2013 and 2014). 

The IT Services department was rigorously assessed in the following areas:
leadership, policy and strategy, people management, processes and procedures, partnerships and resources, customer satisfaction, people satisfaction, performance results, and social responsibility.

Pauline Brown, the University’s IT Business Relationship Manager said, “We embarked on our journey with SDI in May 2012, with the aim of improving the service we provide the University community and improving our internal operations.  The changes and enhancements we’ve put in place have been considerable and we’re absolutely delighted to achieve 4 stars. We know it’s been worthwhile because the overall feedback we receive from staff and students who use our service is excellent. 

“Our 4 star award means we are now classified as a business-led function, which is aligned with where we want to be strategically within the University.  IT underpins all aspects of University life and we want to be an IT service that is proactive, forward-thinking, enables innovation and provides the very best customer service. 

“Having the SDI evaluating our operations against an internationally accepted global standard for best practice and a benchmark for service improvement has been hugely beneficial.”

The award completes a successful period for the University’s IT Services Team, which won the ‘Best Small Service Desk’ award at last summer’s SDI annual conference and award ceremony.
  SDI sets the internationally recognised best practice standards for service desks and service desk professionals around the world.

SDI’s Master Auditor, Howard Kendall, said, “It is brilliant to see St Andrews achieve the first ever 4-star university certification. This success is well-deserved and has been driven by the focused management and service desk teams and through an ongoing programme of service improvements.

“There is an excellent culture of collaboration amongst the IT teams as well as a high level of customer engagement, which has been achieved by working closely with the University community of staff and students alike.  We look forward to seeing the improvements continue and for this desk to lead the way in setting an exceptionally high standard for universities across the world.”


Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 or email

Ref: Seeing stars 220115

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Interview with Whitehall Media - about Enterprise Mobility and Mobile Device Management

I spoke last year at a Whitehall Media event on Enterprise Mobility and Mobile Device Management.

Many organisations continue to struggle with BYOD and the many variants which now exist - BYON, CYOD, etc.

Related to this, my Business Relationship Manager, Pauline Brown, wrote an article about BYOD at the University of St Andrews for Brightsolid:

Going for GOLD again (CEEDA)

I previously reported that we were participants in the Certified Energy Efficient Data Centre Awards Scheme (CEEDA).

I'm delighted to report that we were awarded the GOLD standard again for our Data Centre - following our recent audit. 

Data Centre Dynamics made a short film about us, which you can view here:

University of St Andrews Press Release:

Gold Standard
University of St Andrews recognised for advanced energy efficiency

The University of St Andrews has retained the GOLD award for its Butts Wynd Data Centre by the The British Computing Society (BCS) for CEEDA (Certified Energy Efficient Data Centre Award).

Two years ago, the University became the first public sector organisation to achieve accreditation, and an organisation has to undergo an audit every two years, so in September 2014 a BCS CEEDA Auditor visited the University.

The BCS has now confirmed that, as result of this recent re-accreditation audit, the University has retained the CEEDA GOLD award for energy efficiency across all areas of its Data Centre - and remains the only public sector organisation in the world to hold the Gold standard.

During this latest assessment, for the first time the University was measured against new CEEDA GOLD+ criteria - used to enable feedback and reporting of some of the most advanced energy efficiency criteria available. The assessment looks at the way an organisation approaches energy-efficiency best practice across all areas of the data centre including; IT equipment, procurement and operational processes, cooling and power systems equipment, building control systems and the monitoring and management of energy usage.

The BCS has confirmed that the University has met the new CEEDA GOLD+ criteria.
The University of St Andrews data centre opened in 2011, built at a cost of £2.4 million on the site of the University’s former squash courts, and runs entirely on energy from renewable sources.

The University turned to the CEEDA framework as a way of defining a common approach and standard that would help different parts of the organisation work together, while ensuring stringent processes and continual improvement.

Modifications based on the recommendations from the original CEEDA audit have been implemented, resulting in additional energy savings significantly greater than originally forecast.
Steve Watt, Chief Information Officer explains more about the benefits of undergoing the assessment;

“When we decided to have our facility assessed under the BCS’s Certified Energy Efficient Data Centre Award (CEEDA) framework, back in 2012, the top priorities were the university’s efficiency and sustainability goals – and we were delighted to achieve the Gold award, however we’ve reaped many other benefits since. 

“Not only did the scheme help to meet those goals, aiding in a significant reduction of energy expenditure and carbon emissions, it has also encouraged migration to the facility from across the campus, The kudos of the accreditation has made the job of selling the data centre as the facility of choice much easier, especially as the management of the facility can be seen to follow best practice and there is a clear focus on energy usage reduction, which is a key strategic aim.  The data centre project also continues to generate significant internal and external interest – and the project team have won a number of awards for the innovative methods and practices we adopt.  This has opened new opportunities for learning and sharing best practice with organisations from all over the world.”

You can find out more about CEEDA here: