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Dutch data center consolidation tackles downtime and geography

As it consolidated data centers to save money and improve uptime, the Dutch police faced hurdles -- including the Netherlands terrain, which is 40% below sea level.

Over the past eight years, the Dutch police consolidated 26 data centers down to eight, tackling bureaucracy, downtime and the Atlantic Ocean along the way.

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Jan Wiersma, the data center manager for Politie, the Dutch police, told attendees at AFCOM's Data Center World conference in Las Vegas that consolidation involved numerous challenges. Now complete, the project includes seven data centers and a highly secure facility in a secret location for the country's most sensitive information.

Data center consolidation is a common project among data center managers. According to a survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), only 7% of respondents had not consolidated a data center and had no plans for one in the future. Some of the top reasons for the project, according to the survey, included for disaster recovery and cost savings, which both rang true for the Dutch police.

Building data centers below sea level
One of the biggest challenges, Wiersma said, was his country's topology. About 40% of The Netherlands is below sea level.

"That's an interesting challenge if you're talking about disaster recovery, especially for the Dutch police force," he said, referring to the agency's need to reduce downtime to an absolute minimum.

So Politie had to plan for building data centers in dryer areas of the country whenever possible. Even so, there was no guarantee facilities would be completely safe. One of the recommendations of TIA-942, a standard from the Telecommunications Industry Association that outlines guidelines for planning and building a data center, says that facilities should not be built below sea level or in flood areas. But with a limited number of areas in which to build new consolidated facilities, Wiersma said the police force had no choice.

"This was one standard that wasn't applicable," he said.

Improving communications between police divisions
Prior to the consolidation, the force was a mishmash of 26 data centers scattered around the country and isolated from one another in terms of communication and information technology.

Wiersma said that if the force arrested someone in Amsterdam, for example, it would write a report on the incident and then fax the information to the 25 other departments to see whether they needed information on the suspect or already had information of their own. Without a central database from which departments could check information, keeping track of arrests and suspects was no easy task.

The diverse technology of each department only added to communication problems. One department might use Lotus Notes for its email application, while another used Microsoft Exchange. It could be problematic for an employee to check his email in a district outside of his own.

Then again, consolidation brought its own dynamics. Part of the parameters of the project meant moving to a single-vendor policy: one vendor for servers, one for uninterruptible power supply systems, one for personal computers.

"A lot of those guys working in one of those regions had a staff of 10 to 15 people, and then suddenly they're integrated into this big division," Wiersma said.. "They were used to buying a PC from some guy who was around the corner from their office, and we suddenly said, 'No, you can't do that anymore. We have a standard.'"

Crossing their fingers against red tape
The Netherlands has 10 political parties, Wiersma said. Because of that, the police force gets a new boss almost every four years, the result of a new candidate in office wanting to prove his worth.

I've been with the Dutch police 10 years now," he said. "I've seen situations where we put a lot of money into a project, then someone new gets elected, and the project just stops. So that's an interesting challenge."

Fortunately, there was no interference during the course of the data center consolidation project, and they got it finished.

Finally, Wiersma addressed the green data center issue. Did the agency strive to go green? Not so much.

"We care about a lot of 9s in our uptime," he said. "We didn't care about [going] green. It's not in the minds of the police chiefs."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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