IT at the South Pole: How NZ manages its tech infrastructure in Antarctica

Static electricity, an ageing IT infrastructure, limited accessibility, and now COVID-19 all make the Antarctica New Zealand base not your typical IT environment.

antarctica new zealand scott base
Antarctica New Zealand

Static is a big issue for an IT manager in Antarctica. Antistatic mats are scattered throughout Scott Base—New Zealand’s research station located 1350km from the South Pole. Even then, scientists need to be careful that static electricity, exasperated by the dry environment, doesn’t zap their computers, resulting in data loss.

The cold, the distance, the darkness in winter. None of these factors were cited as major issues for Mike Mahon, whose been in charge of IT for Antarctica New Zealand for over 20 years. His small team take care of IT from the organisation’s headquarters in Christchurch, and this includes managing technical support people at Scott Base—one of which is “on the ice” continuously through summer and winter as part of a “13-months stretch”.

The IT infrastructure at Scott Base

Mahon is about to issue an RFP to replace at the base the HP server and storage infrastructure which operate in a VMware environment. There are 23 servers that run “everything from SharePoint exchange, building management systems, web file servers, web proxies, and all sorts of bits and pieces,” he says.

antarctica new zealand scott base Antarctica New Zealand

Dressed up for a BBQ, staff members at New Zealand’s Antarctic research post, Scott Base. From left to right: Hue Tran, outgoing winter technical support handing over science and IT support to summer tech Wills Dobson and winter tech Jamie McGaw.

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