Cover Story

Building the Government Cloud Network

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Vodafone’s Enterprise Director, Anne Sheehan, discusses the Government Cloud Network and the company’s move into hosting and cloud services with Owen McQuade.

It has been an extremely busy period for Vodafone Ireland. The company is embarking on a comprehensive investment programme, with over
€1 billion invested to date and a planned investment of €550 million over the next three years to bring 3G data to areas where there is already voice coverage and to bring 4G and high speed fibre broadband throughout Ireland. The telecoms giant has also set up a joint venture with ESB, SIRO, which Sheehan stresses is “really important in terms of bridging the digital divide in Ireland”.

SIRO’s ambition is to bring high speed fibre broadband with speeds of up to 1GB to households in the country. The joint venture has been quick out of the blocks and has announced the first ten towns to benefit from the rollout, with Cavan and Dundalk already officially launched. Vodafone also announced in June a test bed partnership for the ‘internet of things’ with EMC and CIT. The company has also invested €2 million in the Government Cloud Network (GCN).

To top it all off, Vodafone recently announced an investment of €60 million in a new European sales centre based in Dublin with the creation of 200 jobs: “Overall, it’s been a busy period of investment over the last three years which shows great confidence in Ireland,” reflects Sheehan.

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Government Cloud Network
Government Cloud Network is a high speed resilient network designed to connect agencies together to use a shared infrastructure. It is powered by HP Networking kit and is built on a managed fibre network from Vodafone. In the past, lack of reliable connectivity had prevented government agencies from sharing infrastructure whereas now, high fibre speeds are enabling agencies to connect to each other and to reliably share IT services.

Agencies are using the GCN for voice and data services from government networks in addition to cloud and hosting services from all government and commercial data centres in Ireland.

The GCN is the first of its kind in Ireland and offers a proven resilient design from a single provider utilising fibre infrastructure from Vodafone and a number of other fibre providers. The network is a key part of the OGCIO’s (Office of the Government Chief Information Officer) ‘build to share’ strategy and will provide a platform for developing other cloud services across government.

Sheehan describes the benefits of the project which she sees as being pivotal to the Government’s reform plans, “which are focused on operational efficiencies and are about doing things differently. This project is all about getting the benefits of a shared infrastructure and the network will facilitate other elements of the IT reform strategy.”

“We are putting the infrastructure in place and it’s going very well in terms of roll-out,” explains Sheehan.

Vodafone is contracted with OGCIO for seven years to design, build and support the GCN. “Since November 2014, we have rolled out resilient fibre rings in 20 towns and that offers resilient connectivity for the 140 agencies nationwide. Our vision is that we will continue to roll this out in as many towns as possible, using the fibre infrastructure that is available today.” Vodafone will also look to take advantage of SIRO which is also currently being rolled out across regional towns around the country.

“The immediate road map will also see another €500,000 invested in 2015 so that by the end of 2015 we will have 40 towns up and running,” says Sheehan. “We have achieved a lot and our aim is to bring fibre to every town where there is a government agency.”

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Build to share
The build to share aspect of the GCN reflects a central feature in the Government’s ICT strategy. It offers agencies the benefit of being able to move away from the traditional five year cycle of capital expenditure in hardware and software and allows them to opt for a “pay as you use” model. “This enables agencies to hop on and off the network as demand changes and reduces capital expenditure,” explains Sheehan.

“The build to share approach will roll out across all IT capability including storage and hosting services.”

This move reflects Vodafone’s evolution into new areas and October 2015 also sees the opening of Vodafone’s new data centre in Ireland with an investment of €7 million. “Moving into cloud and hosting services is part of the overall Vodafone strategy. We want to be able to take the customer on a journey from the hand into the device, into the network, into the data centre and then up into the cloud. That is my vision for providing end-to-end solutions for our enterprise customers in Ireland,” highlights Sheehan.

“With the data centre we can offer our enterprise customers choice in terms of co-location, hybrid cloud, or the ability to manage public cloud if the customer wants it. Making the investment in the Government Cloud Network has been central to this strategy,” she continues.

“GCN saves the government agencies capex and gets them access to speeds of up to 10GB. It also allows them choice of another resilient high capacity network. More competition and choice in the market place is good for everyone as every commercial data centre in Ireland is already on the GCN,” Sheehan adds.

Future
Looking at future developments in the Government space, Sheehan observes that with the enterprise business, mobility is becoming more important in government. “This is being driven by smart phone penetration which is growing year-on-year. The whole strategy around mobility is continuing to evolve rapidly and we see that as an area for innovation in service delivery,” explains Sheehan.

There is also a trend towards more managed services: “Rather than supplying a network or phone system, more organisations want to procure infrastructure as a service and they are also seeking more services around security,” she continues.

Looking at the wider telecoms market she concludes: “From a fixed business perspective, we are very much a challenger which creates competition and offers more choice to government. With the opening of our data centre and the move into cloud and hosting services we see that shared infrastructure – whatever the business model – is how things are evolving.”

Profile: Anne Sheehan
Anne Sheehan is Enterprise Director at Vodafone Ireland. She previously worked at IBM for 17 years, firstly in ICT and then as Sales Director for Ireland and Vice-President (Sales) for the Nordic countries. She sees a “very fine line” between telecoms and ICT and moving between the two industries “isn’t as big a move as some people think it is”. Anne also has a background in delivering complex projects. She joined Vodafone in 2013 and loves the “dynamic” nature of the telecoms marketplace: “There’s never a dull moment, it’s never static and it’s really, really exciting.”
From Ennis, County Clare, she watches any sport and is a “big hurling fan”. Anne is married to Robert with a six-year old son Adam.

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