The Joint Academic Network (Janet) is considering using a shared services system in datacentres across the education sector.
Janet has issued a request for information from suppliers, with a view to consolidating datacentres over the next two years.
All further and higher education organisations and research councils in the UK are connected to Janet, but until now computing power has resided in respective institutions. However, a number of factors are increasing pressure on Janet to review this strategy, says Dan Perry, head of strategic business at Janet.
“The education and research sectors already benefit from Janet to provide a high-capacity, reliable, resilient enabling solution,” said Perry. “Now… the need for an inclusive sector-wide shared datacentre strategy is clear.”
Janet is carrying out a survey of institutions to get a better idea of what users might need from such a solution. Initial feedback suggests most face the same problems.
The recession is putting a squeeze on budgets at a time when power costs are likely to increase. Upcoming legislation, such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment, will tax electricity beyond standard price rises for heavy users; and real estate on which to build a datacentre is becoming more valuable and less available.
Meanwhile, datacentre use is rising fast as all sectors of education become intensive IT users.
Lifetime running costs for datacentres often outstrip the cost of a datacentre itself, and a recent study by Gartner found that energy use and cost will become “the single most critical capacity constraint in large datacentres by 2010”.
Although institutions can virtualise their datacentres to a certain degree, the benefits are nowhere close to those that would arise from pooling computing power and virtualising centrally.
“There is some available capacity in many existing datacentres that can possibly be increased through virtualisation,” said Perry. “However, existing centres have only finite capacity, and it is clear from recent studies that demand is beyond the level that can be met by these facilities. New provision is one strand the strategy must include.”
Perry says some recent studies have estimated a shared high-end datacentre could make savings of £100m over 15 years.
Such a move would tie in with the trend for geography to matter less in data provision. Construction firm Taylor Wimpey has pushed many of its communications into the cloud, as has the University of Portsmouth; the UK government is also looking to create a government cloud.
The free flow of information is particularly important to academic institutions; after all, the internet has its roots in academic networks. Consolidation would support the increasing digitisation of data, online learning provision and hosted software as a service models.
Janet is still at an early planning stage on its datacentre consolidation strategy. Any solution will be tailored to the needs of particular institutions rather than forcing all of them to use central servers.
“The strategy that Janet is co-ordinating must recognise the need for local, regional, even national-scale solutions,” said Perry. “Larger datacentres offer efficiencies of both scale and scope, and aggregation and cost benefits. Smaller datacentres based around institutions with common interests offer high-trust environments for bespoke shared services.”
For example, institutions for climate research could share datacentres separately from institutes that share information on engineering research.
“There are services that the commercial market may best provide, and with responsible aggregated procurement the sector can benefit as part of an overall blend of in-house, small and larger shared datacentre and commercial provision,” Perry said. The strategy will be developed over the next three months, and Janet is actively seeking the views of stakeholders and suppliers.
Janet was set up to share information between educational institutions and developed out of a number of local and research networks dating back to the 1970s.
By 1980, a number of networks had grown organically to connect educational facilities in London, Manchester, Bath, Edinburgh and Newcastle, where groups of institutions had pooled resources to provide better computing facilities than could be afforded individually.
In the early 1980s, the networks were standardised and interconnected. The system first went live in 1983 and was upgraded throughout the 1980s.
In 1993, SuperJanet, a solely IP network, was launched. Throughout the 1990s, SuperJanet was upgraded to include more educational institutes, and to increase capacity.
In 2006, the core SuperJanet4 backbone was upgraded. As well as serving research institutes, universities and further education, it also connects users in primary and secondary schools.