Monday, 23 March 2009

Database State

Ten of the 46 major databases that our government keeps on its citizens are illegal according to recent research released by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust  – furthermore the majority of the remainder could be illegal depending on how they’re used.

No surprises really. In recent years these central databases have mushroomed as part of the ‘Transformational Government’ programme to make public services better, cheaper, and more joined-up. No comment on whether these objectives have been achieved (!) but one consequences of giving increasing numbers of civil servants daily access to our personal information is that over two-thirds of the population no longer trusts the government with their personal data.

Of course the breakdown of public trust in databases is not just a public sector phenomenon. As the media backlash against Google Maps’ latest innovation of 3D views of our streets and homes shows, private databases can come under fire from a privacy-demanding public as well.

The data centre industry needs to be prepared for these developments as we are very much part of the ‘freedom vs. privacy’ debate. If certain data is illegal (or even undesirable) what does this make the data centre that’s holding it? Are we aiding and abetting the use of illegal databases? To whom does a co-lo or data hotel owe its allegiance – their client or the person whose records they are keeping?

 These may be lofty themes but, as the debate continues, I guarantee that more and more data centre owners will face the dilemma of legal demands to handover the data that they store on behalf of their clients. When this starts to happen we must make sure that the data centre industry’s house is in order – we must ensure that our data storage policies, procedures and security are clear and transparent so we remain part of the information age’s solution, not a contributor to its problems.

The Database State’s ‘Top 20’ – How many are you on? 

  • National DNA Database
  • National Identity Register
  • ContactPoint - information on every child
  • NHS Detailed Care Record - GP and hospital records
  • Secondary Uses Service - summaries of hospital treatment
  • Common Assessment Framework - child welfare assessments
  • ONSET - a Home Office system that predicts which children will offend in the future!
  • The Department for Work & Pension’s data sharing programme,
  • National Fraud Initiative
  • The Communications Database - of itemised phone bills, email headers and mobile phone location history
  • PrĂ¼m Framework – EU-wide data-sharing for law enforcement
  • NHS Summary Care Record
  • National Childhood Obesity Database
  • National Pupil Database
  • Automatic Number Plate Recognition
  • The Schengen Information System, a European police database
  • Customer Information System - of the Department for Work and Pensions
  • National Fingerprint Database
  • TV Licensing

What your scores mean:

1-10 databases: Just because they keep information on you, it doesn’t mean you’re interesting.

11-15 databases: Don’t worry Mr Smith, Mr Smit or Mr Smiht. The average data entry clark is unlikely to have spelt your surname the same way twice.

More than 15 databases: Send us a postcard from Belmarsh!

Friday, 20 March 2009

How well labelled is your computer room?

If a third party came to visit, could you identify a server by looking at it in the rack? Would you know where its network cabling terminated? Many computer room and data centres that Migration Solutions have visited have had a distinct lack of labelling, which makes auditing a long and painful process. Do you have a Change Management Database (CMDB)? If you do, is it up to date? How many times has someone gone into the computer room to make a quick patch and then left it there without recording it. Multiply this by a 10 year life span and it is more than likely that there are large amounts of unrecorded patching.

The maintenance of a CMDB is a very important part of computer room management. Using the best practice guidelines set out in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) a Data Centre Manager (DCM) should have a strict process by which new equipment is labelled, installed and patched but most importantly, recorded in a CMDB.

Asset management should be part of the processes and procedures implemented by the DCM. All equipment within a computer room from racks to routers should be labelled and recorded. Any person should be able to walk into your computer room, find a piece of equipment and either identify what its function is from its labelling, or be able to look up its asset number on a CMDB, and find out what it’s connected to, what service(s) it affects, when it was installed and information about power consumption and heat output, along with details of any support arrangements whether internal or external.

This is, of course, on the face of it, a large overhead. But IT is critical to the running of any modern business. Change Management, along with other ITIL best practice of Service Desk and Incident Management are essential in running an efficient computer room. ITIL is a guide. It does not force any of its practices to make a ‘once size fits all’ solution, but understands that parts can be used and adapted to fit the organisation.

If best practice is followed, with clearly documented process, when it comes to consolidate or migrate your assets, all the required information should be to hand, and the change management process in place to handle it.

Migration Solutions are data centre specialists who focus on the operation, migration and design of new and existing data centres and are vendor independent. Migrations Solutions provides computer room and data centre operational staff on long and short-term contracts, and believe strongly that the only way to build a data centre effectively is to also operate them. For more information visit

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Be prepared for a hot summer

The first warm days of 2009 have arrived this week, and hopefully we are in for a good summer this year. But is it good news for your computer room?

The last two summers, have been, to say the least, pretty dismal, giving your computer rooms a reprieve. Don’t be complacent this year, if we have a hot summer you’ll need to be prepared. The last very hot, and long summer was 2003. All that new kit that you have been installing since then will only make cooling your environment more difficult, especially if the amount of cooling available is barely sufficient.

So how can you prepare?

Take a good hard look at your IT environment. Do you have any windows? Windows in a computer room are the biggest problem. Do what you can to block the windows, whether it be with boarding or blackout blinds, it will help. Ideally your computer room should be well inside the centre of a building.

Check your installed devices. If they are in racks with a best practice hot aisle/cold aisle arrangement make sure that the equipment is installed correctly. You’d be amazed how often we find servers installed back to front with the hot air being blown into the cold aisle. If you have Cisco kit, it may have side to side cooling. Have you installed baffles to redirect the airflow?

Check your cabling. Is it blocking air flow? Do you have sufficient floor grills? You may have sufficient cooling on paper, but if the airflow is blocked, or the air can’t reach the front of the servers it will cause problems.

Do you have glass fronted cabinets? These are also bad news for air flow.

Finally, if the worst comes to the worst, do you know which non-critical devices can be shut down? Do you have development and testing servers that can be shut down, and do you have a plan in place to do this? Are you able to resources portable air conditioning units at short notice?

These are just a few of the things that can be done, which will not only help you to get though the summer, but will also save you money all year round. 2009 could be a very bad year for computer rooms. Getting your computer room in shape now is essential.

Migration Solutions are data centre specialists. They recently won the Information Age Data Centre Innovation Award for ERA, an environmental report and assessment. ERA investigates all the elements that affect a data centre's operation and gives advice on how to be more environmentally friendly, more efficient and save on energy consumption. As a pre-summer health-check, Migration Solutions can advise on how to prepare for an anticipated hot summer. For more information visit

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Web at 20

In a triumph of science over superstition, Friday (the 13th’s) birthday celebration of the web has passed without a hitch, global meltdown or terror attack on this haphazard data infrastructure which increasingly appears to be the ‘only thing’ that’s keeping our world together. Twenty years ago last week, in his unassumingly titled document Information Management: A Proposal, then CERN staffer Tim Berners-Lee put forward a revolutionary proposal for a new system for sharing information and, in doing so, changed the world forever.

From its humble beginnings as a CERN internal proposal for a more effective document management system, the web has grown exponentially into a global phenomenon – since 2000 the percentage of the world’s population which is connected to the Internet has risen from 5% to 25%, and there’s not an analysts who’ll seriously argue against the Internet being all but globally ubiquitous by 2020.

So thanks Tim! Google, Cisco, Amazon and indeed Migration Solutions: none of these businesses would have been possible without you! As for what will happen in the next 20 years? Migration Solutions is going to be pretty busy designing better data centres for the ‘last 75%’ of the planet that are still to get online.

Migration Solutions are data centre specialists who focus on the operation, migration and design of new and existing data centres. They are vendor independent which allows the best products to be selected for their clients. To find out about what Migration Solutions can do for you visit the website