Data centre inefficiencies drive Telstra rethink

Storage growth, water waste and ageing facilities hurt Telstra operations

Telstra has moved to further consolidate its servers and data centres in the wake of continuing transformation at the telco, “aggressively” ramping up virtualisation and lifecycle refresh programs in an effort to minimise impact on its operations and efficiencies.

Though currently a “blip” on its quarterly electricity bill, Telstra’s data centres are expected to come under closer scrutiny once the company rationalises its assets under the National Broadband Network, according to the general manager of managed data centres, Jon Curry.

“We are gathering up all of those server technologies and consolidating into two or three sites,” Curry told attendees at a data centre conference in Sydney this week. “A lot of that server technology is network-oriented, so mobiles, a lot of our voice platforms, are going into the data centres.”

Exponential storage growth and an inability to meet the demands of Telstra’s retail subdivisions have also driven a rethink of data centre efficiencies.

“BigPond will rock up and tell me within a fortnight they need to deploy a thousand servers or 400 or 500 servers,” Curry said. “The obvious thing is... I can’t do that, and they’ll go off and deploy in a network exchange, which they've done three or four times now.

“I've got certain buildings in this city that have large BigPond infrastructure sitting in them.”

Inefficiencies in the telco’s Sydney and Melbourne-based data centres have continued to pose issues to the company.

Curry said one of the Melbourne-based centres — an old salt factory — housed four 30-year-old chillers though, in many cases, only one worked.

“The BMS fails, chillers fail, cracks fail, and we're paying a lot of [operational expenditure] out to maintain these places,” he said.

Water waste has become an increasing priority for Telstra too, which had installed a reserve tank at the ageing Melbourne facility to prevent total waste of up to 70,000 litres of water dumped per week to test fire systems.

However, Telstra’s main Sydney facility — which Curry said consumes more than 85,000 litres of water per week for the same purpose — was yet to have a similar solution. The facility is estimated to utilise up to 155,000 litres per day for normal operation.

“We create clouds above or next to a very large hospital in the city,” Curry said.

Curry said one proposal for a $6000-7000 investment in water reduction technologies over five years failed to meet up an internal cost benefit analysis at the telco.

Telstra intends to replace many of its chillers and cooling towers over coming months in order to produce further efficiencies, after which water waste will likely become a higher priority.

The telco also conducted a three-year dilapidation study to identify critical operational risks, which has since dictated changes in the lifecycle program and a change in Telstra’s disaster recovery strategy to include concerns about room failures, rather than entire site failures.

Prior to the new strategy, Curry said “there didn't seem to be any link in losing two or three rooms and losing a whole site”.

Despite a reduction in internal activity since Telstra wound down its $13.5 billion IT transformation program, Curry warned that the company’s data centres would continue to pose a point of importance.

“In Telstra I am a blip on the electricity bill because there are so many network exchanges, but as the NBN rolls in and we start to rationalise our footprint, I'm going to start sticking out.”

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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