The five minute CIO: John Shorten, TelecityGroup

28 Nov 2014

John Shorten, technical director for Ireland at TelecityGroup

“Be sensible. Use IT budgets to meet short-term requirements but long-term requirements must fit in with business strategy,” says John Shorten, technical director for Ireland at TelecityGroup.

TelecityGroup Ireland operates three carrier-neutral data centres in Dublin, with a combined capacity of more than 12,500 sq metres and 10MW of customer available power.

TelecityGroup acquired Irish data centre group Data Electronics in August 2011 for €100m.

Prior to the acquisition, Shorten was chief technical officer at Data Electronics. Before joining Data Electronics, Shorten was a Unix and storage engineer at Inflow and a product support specialist at EMC.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

The company is built upon data centre and IT expertise that not only supports customers but also internal requirements to keep the data centres operational 24/7.  Supporting three data centres and the associated IT systems that manage the operation requires meticulous planning and focus. The services that a data centre needs to run requires significant control and monitoring of IT systems. These systems generate large amounts of data that need to be monitored and analysed.

Therefore, in addition to the specific managed IT services that are provided to customers there are local IT-specific skills needed for telecommunication management, information services and support of facilities data from multiple sites to ensure that the data centres are operating to the standards that we expect.

What are the main points of your companys IT strategy?

Continue to find innovative ways to provide IT solutions that have significant value for the customer.

It is important to anticipate change and analyse potential evolutionary changes in the industry – not just focus on what is directly ahead. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find skilled IT personnel with varied experience across multiple disciplines. It is therefore important to invest in local personnel to augment skills and foster loyalty. To ensure there is continued value to the business in the IT services we provide means starting with the customer. What do they value and see the benefit in? Our service offering has to align with this.  

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

The IT infrastructure that supports the facilities running the TelecityGroup data centres in Ireland spans multiple computer racks, servers and uses high-speed networks that create terabytes of storage per day. This covers energy management, monitoring of data centre facilities equipment, from generators to UPS units, along with CCTV and access control. Even before a customer’s managed services environment has been deployed, the IT infrastructure to deliver a customer’s basic cabinet installation is extensive.  

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

Be sensible. Use IT budgets to meet short-term requirements but long-term requirements must fit in with business strategy and need careful planning in order to ensure return on investment. Special interest groups and IT vendors may state that significant IT transformation is required in the short term, but this must make business sense. From experience, planning well ahead of budgetary deadlines is important. Give ample time for business units to accurately prepare IT budgets so that they can be analysed and viability for shared solutions can be considered. 

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

The IT infrastructure for managed services is quite evolved now at this stage and combines virtualisation of not only server workloads but also software defined networking where permissible. Some of the IT infrastructure for management of the facilities within the data centre site still follow the older silo philosophy and we are undertaking steps to simplify by consolidation and virtualisation. Facilities suppliers have been slower to support virtualisation technologies than more specialist IT suppliers have, however, there is more widespread support now.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

IT support is provided by our own local skilled team with some internal services supported by group headquarters. In certain circumstances, we may consider third-party contractors if a customer has a specific requirement outside our normal skill set and backend this with a service level agreement. 

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

Given the scope of my role it is impossible to avoid the technical challenges that come up from time to time but thankfully not too often. I came from an IT engineering background and this sometimes gives me a good insight into interdependencies of different areas of data centre services.

The important thing is to use experience learned in resolving technical issues and engineer solutions to prevent recurrence. We have had a well-run quality management system in place for many years now and this ensures that we put long-term corrective actions to issues across all levels of IT management.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Some of the biggest challenges in running a data centre business revolve around energy management and efficiency. Analysing data on data centre power usage and temperature control is important in ensuring energy costs remain in check. Efficient use of IT infrastructure, networking and storage is important in providing access to data for archiving, trending and correlating energy usage.

Moving away from information silos for different parts of facilities control is important in achieving this through virtualisation and consolidation of storage and networking. Specialist software for correlating efficiency of monitored mechanical and electrical equipment allows this data to be correctly interpreted for trends and potential cost savings. 

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We have a well evolved quality management system in place now and with corrective action systems, root cause analysis and remedial methods we can control non-conformities when they arise. Using our quality management software we have key performance metrics on helpdesk, IT function and customer satisfaction. On a pure IT level, analysis of network operation centre-monitored metrics, such as server performance, network utilisation and capacity management, ensures there are ample resources to scale as needed. 

Are there any areas youve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

In the provisioning of private cloud and infrastructure as a service environments for customers, the orchestration of virtualised deployments can vastly reduce the time to deployment of solutions. By the creation of deployment templates and known good configurations, lead time can be reduced significantly. Typically, installations that require deployment of hardware are at the mercy of vendor shipping times and manufacturing lead times. While inventory management can streamline this to an extent, the real step change is in the adoption of the software defined data centre. 

What other projects do you have lined up for the coming year, and what will they contribute to the business?

One of our projects for next year is the adoption of lean methods and six sigma tools for assisting in the services that we provide across our data centres. Implementing lean principles and practices helps us to deliver on our commitment to deliver value add to our customer. We are focused on improving the running of the day-to-day processes in terms of effectiveness and efficiency across all operations. Essentially identifying and removing waste for these value streams.

Our ‘Lean’ programme involves people at all levels in the organisation implementing lean techniques, such as learning to see and remove the Seven Types of Waste, 5S to help standardise our processes, and problem-solving techniques, such as A3 Management. Six sigma statistical analysis tools and techniques will provide us with the ability to gather data, analyse and interpret results, allowing us improve performance and reliability of our mechanical and electrical infrastructure. We are fortunate in that we have in-house expertise in these areas that we can capitalise on.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years