The five minute CIO: John Dolan

15 Feb 2013

John Dolan, IT technical services and system administrator at Dublin Bay Power Plant

From gas to cloud: the IT technical services and system administrator at Dublin Bay Power Plant (DBPP) John Dolan explains how a gas turbine generation facility has embraced cloud services while pursuing a sustainability agenda.

Can you explain what DBPP does and give a sense of the scale of it from an IT perspective?

Dublin Bay Power Plant is a 400MW combined-cycle gas turbine generation plant in Ringsend. We provide up to 9pc of the electricity generated on the island of Ireland.

Our major applications are Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, Office 2010, Oracle 10g, SQL Server 2008, IBM Maximo, OSIsoft PI, NiSoft Eclipsee, Lync 2010, MobileIron, Veeam Backup Enterprise, Microsoft System Centre 2012, BitDefender, VMware vSphere 5, SRM, Solarwinds Virtualization Manager, and Waterford Technologies archiving solutions, to name but a few.

We have three key locations, which are the main production comms room, the on-site backup comms room located in a separate building for local disaster recovery [DR]/ backups, and a DR site data centre located off-site for full disaster recovery.

DBPP recently moved to a Citrix cloud services environment. What was the main motivation for changing: cost saving, or giving you a more flexible IT infrastructure to support growth?

We rolled out a Citrix cloud services environment to help support our growing IT infrastructure. Unity Technology Solutions designed and implemented the new infrastructure and the objective was to create a simplified, cost-effective, and flexible IT infrastructure that would ultimately allow our employees to be more effective by giving them the ability to work from anywhere. 

At the same time, we wanted to enhance critical application performance, reduce management and hardware costs, and create a greener IT environment.

What technical benefits resulted from this work?

Implementing Citrix XenServer has resulted in a more agile and cost effective IT environment – ‘fat client’ PCs have been replaced with thin clients and virtual desktops powered by XenDesktop and Wyse Terminals. Citrix NetScaler Branch Repeater was also installed to increase application access speed across different sites.

Our server estate was also significantly consolidated through server virtualisation. Ultimately, DBPP can now deliver virtual desktops and enhanced applications to all employees, providing more flexible and productive working capabilities.

What business benefits did the project bring about?

Employees can now access desktops and applications from any location, via any device and respond to issues, such as a possible plant trip, critical failure or shut-down quickly via iPhones or iPads – providing immediate support and avoiding unnecessary disruptions.

Operating costs have been significantly reduced: total hardware cost savings over a 10-year period will be in the region of 82pc. Company projections also show in excess of 90pc savings in power consumption, driving down operating expenditure and playing an important role in complying with the green IT policy.

With a streamlined infrastructure and faster applications, we’re now able to actively realise our plan of implementing a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy. This next stage innovation will increase worker productivity, boost employees’ job satisfaction and further cut IT costs.

Has the project improved your security, and your disaster recovery procedures?

Citrix has definitely improved security, also allowing us to implement new policies and using the NetScaler access gateway. It has simplified our disaster recovery procedures now we have XA servers in our DR site.

On security, there’s a lot of talk about the need to protect critical infrastructure from threats: how important is this to DBPP?

Protecting our infrastructure and investment is crucial part of our strategy at DBPP. We have additional threats to consider, which are not only to our main IT infrastructure but also to our Plan IT Controls with the likes of the Stuxnet virus.

We’ve also developed a security awareness programme for staff to raise the awareness of threats to them and to the business.

DBPP is unusual in openly promoting a green IT policy when the recession seems to have relegated that kind of initiative to ‘nice to have’. Why was it important to pursue it?

Our green policies in general reflect the commitment of the company to the very serious issue of sustainability. The green IT policy in particular has resulted in large savings, both financially and environmentally, as I mentioned. Savings of 80 – 90pc can’t be ignored, especially in these straitened times.

What’s the percentage split between users at DBPP who have thin clients compared to ones who use smartphones or tablets?

The percentage split is currently 75pc/25pc but with the upgrading to XA6.5, new security measures and the plan to implement and support BYOD, I would expect this to close the gap.

Are there any users in the company who still have traditional PCs or laptops and if so, why?

The company is moving more towards Citrix and thin clients but we still retain traditional PCs or laptops in the event of DR scenarios in the unlikely event Citrix is unavailable.

Why did you go down the route of deploying thin clients at all, when there’s such noise around the BYOD trend?

Our green IT policy was a big part of this, as well as some cost-saving measures. Also, the flexibility required when we have plant outages at DBPP: it’s a lot quicker to deploy thin clients to 20-plus support engineers than it is to deploy desktop PCs which need to be maintained, configured and managed. 

What will your big IT projects be for this year?

There is not necessarily a big IT project but the focus this year is to maintain and refine our existing systems and to see where we can optimise and make improvements. And, as always, maintain and improve security.

Will your IT budget stay the same as last year, will it be reduced, or increased?

Unfortunately, our IT budget was cut significantly from last year’s so we have to try and increase productivity for staff while reducing and stabilising IT costs. But the technologies in-house will enable us to achieve this. With the emphasis on optimising and improving systems, this will be possible.

How would you describe your own approach to IT: just a way to keep business operations running, and to be delivered at the lowest cost, or can it deliver innovation and value to an organisation?

Our approach has always been to embrace new technology and be ready for change. We believe we can deliver innovation and value to our organisation. The lowest-cost solutions are not always the right ones to choose. It’s very important to have a strategy or vision: to look at the wider picture rather than the ‘here and now’ approach.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic