Multicloud savings banked, Auckland Council pursues vision of ‘spot pricing’

ICT director credits his ”bloody good team” as New Zealand's biggest council aims to sell its innovations to others.

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Dan Freeman

Auckland Council has already saved $12.8 million in IT costs by developing its own multicloud platform, but the council’s plans don’t end there.

Council ICT staff first reduced the cost of its infrastructure by moving data processing and storage from onsite to outsourced data centres in a hybrid cloud model. 

mark denvir auckland council Auckland Council

Mark Denvir, director of ICT, Auckland Council

Now they are is seeking even more savings through the ability to dynamically shift workloads in the pursuit of something akin to “spot pricing”, director of ICT Mark Denvir told New Zealand Reseller News, a sister publication to Computerworld New Zealand. “In the dark old days, I was a currency trader in the oil industry,” he said. “I can see ICT infrastructure moving towards spot pricing as well.”

However, that  was a service none of the cloud providers were able to offer. “We couldn’t find anyone able to stitch it together,” Denvir said. “The reality was we couldn’t find what we needed on the market so we took a punt and designed our own version of cloud infrastructure,” Denvir said.

How the Auckland council built its multicloud platform

To achieve its vision, the council had to move outside of the all-of-government infrastructure as a service construct with provider Revera to gain access to the hypervisor. The council’s team then applied that across Amazon Web Services’ cloud and to Microsoft Azure as well.

That shift also allowed the use of “agents” to report important metrics on system performance and allow the council team to be proactive rather than reactive to system performance. 

Key to the overall effort was the application of virtualisation technology from VMware and from enterprise cloud management vendor Actifio. And talks with ERP system provider SAP also allowed other entities to sit inside Auckland Council’s SAP environment to take advantage of its economies of scale.

The design process was not without obstacles. COVID-19 lockdowns prolonged final migrations and, with cybersecurity threats continuing to escalate, maintaining secure data infrastructure had to be the priority.

“I am really proud of the team who have been working constantly on this for a number of years,” Denvir said. “When the market follows what you have done, it is a satisfying reminder that you’ve designed something pretty cool.”

The council, New Zealand’s largest by far, is now looking to sell its designs and innovations to other councils and to its own council controlled organisations, most prominently Auckland Transport and Watercare. However the council had also talked to Tauranga City Council and northern region health shared service entity HealthAlliance. “We can onboard anyone,” Denvir said. “I have a strong belief local government in New Zealand has an opportunity to take advantage of what we’ve built.”

The system could scale and flex to the council’s changing needs while continuing to drive costs down. It also delivered greater resilience and security against the threat of cybersecurity compromise.

Enduring savings

While the council is still pursuing fully dynamic workload management, its new multicloud platform is already supporting the use of the cheapest and most efficient service at any point in time, Denvir said.

The multicloud design means Auckland Council can both contribute savings back to the organisation and enable IT capacity to grow. “As Auckland grows our data capture has to increase and that’s an increased cost,” Denvir said. “In the multicloud we are able to adapt to that growth.”

The multicloud platform will continue to deliver more efficiencies through increased flexibility and lower cost datacentre processing and storage capacity, he said. More savings should be realised when long-term backups could be deleted in the next financial year.

Chair of the council’s value for money committee, Desley Simpson, said the multicloud migration programme was one of the enduring savings the council achieved since intensifying its commitment to become a leaner and more efficient organisation.

“To build cloud infrastructure which better stores our data, enables a $12.8 million saving and increases our data security, and then go on to sell this to others to create long term income and further savings opportunities, deserves praise of the highest order,” Simpson said.

Denvir said inside the council, spending on the multicloud project over the years looked like big money, but the value returned had been significant.

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