The Government of the State of Melaka in Malaysia has embarked on an IT consolidation and virtualisation journey. Dr Mohamed Sulaiman Sultan Suhaibuddeen, the Government’s ICT Head shares his perspectives.
The ICT journey of Malaysia’s Melaka State Government is typical – it also faces the challenges of having information and systems in silos. The ICT division, which handles most IT needs centrally, has started to control and consolidate its assets. A Common data centre and a disaster recovery centre are being built; standards are being put in; and effective management practices are being introduced and evaluated.
“We will have consolidated all the common data and services to the State Government Data Centre by 2015,” says Dr Mohamed Sulaiman Sultan Suhaibuddeen, ICT Head of Melaka State Government. Naturally, the government is also virtualising its data centre facilities, to be ‘fully cloud-enabled’.
Famous for the historical city with the same name, Melaka State is also a vibrant manufacturing centre. The state government has 43 departmental offices and governs four local authorities.
The Government is standardising the data centres at the four local authorities in the State. Detailed analysis is conducted for each of them to find commonalities and to ensure the consolidation will not fail because of lack of understanding in ground operations.
“The challenge number one for us is of course money,” says Dr Sulaiman. “Enabling all these agencies to access information effectively and work with it meaningfully is a costly endeavour, and we want to make sure the solutions we adopt are cost effective.”
Part of the cost is connectivity – the State Government believes that using telecom networks to connect 43 different government offices is very expensive, especially when the data volume the government is working with is constantly increasing. To address this, the government is deploying its own fibre network, called MelakaNet at these sites. The RM15 million (US$ 4.76 million) first phase of the project, which started in April, will see 150 kilometres of fibre being laid out, with four major nodes, to connect all 43 sites. When this phase is completed, the bandwidth for each government agency will increase from the current 2MB to 1GB.
Before being appointed to the current post, Dr Sulaiman was the Head of the Knowledge Economy (K-Economy) Division of the State’s Chief Minister’s Department. One of the key focuses of the Division was, in his words, “how to enable ICT for the betterment of citizens”. A lot of the work was around standardisation, capacity building and transfer of management skills.
Choose cost-effective solutions
And for the data centre, the State Government is implementing Red Hat Enterprise Linux, a product suite that has been in the market for more than 10 years, and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation.
In fact, with a background in accountancy and business administration, Dr Sulaiman is very careful when he selects technologies. “Quite often people select solutions based on particular technologies,” he comments. “However, what you need from solutions is ROI — the ability to solve real problems. You are not selecting particular technologies per se.”
His experience with ISPs, cloud services and grid computing, coupled with his PhD in information security, have given him a lot of exposure in IT management. They also make him even more prudent when picking technologies.
“Open source has been doing very well in the web server space; systems running open source are much more reliable and much less likely to get compromised,” he says. “The only company that gives us safety and security in the open source space is Red Hat.”
In addition, compared to proprietary software, open source offers choice and avoids vendor lock-in – a key concern that keeps organisations from reaping the benefits of cloud computing fully. In addition, US National Security Agency (NSA) and Red Hat have jointly developed Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux), allowing high level of security within Red Hat technologies.
In addition to rigorous technical evaluation, the technology partner’s advice also gave the government reassurance. “Abyres, the very reliable partner we have been working with for a long time, told us that Red Had had never let them down,” Dr Sulaiman notes. “That fits with what we have discovered in our evaluation.”
Another key difference between open source and proprietary deployments is the payment model. With open source, the costs are mainly from support and therefore more operational. Companies producing proprietary solutions often spend a lot on sales and marketing, and therefore less of the money that consumers pay can go into actual systems and training of staff. “They sell these products at very high prices, and you need to ask yourself whether it is worth it,” Dr Sulaiman says.
He adds that if an agency does not conduct its own analysis, it would naturally go with either VMWare or Microsoft – “the brands which do a lot of marketing”. If not for the rigorous analysis and the backing and reassurance given by Abyres, he would have been sceptical about going with Red Hat.
However, at the end of the day, a good, cost-effective solution allows the government to do more with the resources it has. In addition, strong analysis allows it to be confident about the products it has chosen.
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