ABS private cloud may host eCensus

Server management staff went from 30 to seven

Tony Marion

Tony Marion

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has virtualised its server infrastructure to form its own private cloud with the potential to host the 2016 eCensus thus avoiding a $9 million outsourcing contract.

In 2006, the ABS introduced the option of either completing the Census on the traditional paper form or electronically via the Web-based eCensus, which provides the potential for improved data collection and faster processing of the results.

The ABS chose IBM to develop and support its eCensus program because of “IBM's expertise in Web-based solutions and scalable infrastructure”, but that is changing with the advent of virtualization technology which has provided the opportunity to host the application in house, according to the ABS director of servers, operating systems and storage, Tony Marion.

“Running the eCensus in-house is something we are considering, not for the 2011 Census, but the 2016 one is a possibility,” Marion said.

By its own admission, the ABS was one of the first organisations in the world to deploy VMware's vSphere cloud computing software and is set to go live with the newly released version 4.0 by the end of April.

During its transformation the ABS went from more than 300 physical servers to 70 which are now hosting around 1500 virtual machines.

This allows it to provision workloads for development and production in days instead of months.

“I couldn't believe we would be where we are today from only three years ago,” Marion said. “We are now 95 per cent virtual and have high-availability on a low budget which is great.”

Where once the ABS could not justify purchasing more infrastructure for one project that happens every five years it is now in a position to provide low-cost processing power with its existing infrastructure in a coherent manageable way.

With vSphere 4.0 Marion expects the management overhead to reduce even further.

“We had 30 people managing our server infrastructure four years ago and today we have seven,” he said. “People have either left of been re-deployed in the organisation.”

“With vSphere you can virtualize SaaS and data warehouses, which only twelve months ago you wouldn't have thought of virtualizing.”

According to the ABS, eCensus information is encrypted at all times while in the system and even IBM does not have the keys required to decrypt the data, but running it in-house would reduce the perception of secure information being managed by a third-party.

Technology behind the $9 million eCensus project

The ABS entered into a $9 million contract with IBM in early 2005 to develop eCensus to allow people to complete the census online for the first time.

Over 18 months, IBM and the ABS developed the Web-based application in HTML and Javascript with a Java backend.

eCensus uses a WebSphere application server and is hosted on the AIX operating system by IBM in Sydney.

The eCensus and paper census data was brought together and merged into one stream and processed at the ABS processing centre in Melbourne.

The ABS said it made sense to outsource the project to IBM because of its "one-off" nature and the expected "high spike" in use on August 8, 2006.

"It didn't make a lot of sense for us to run up the horsepower to provide this," a spokesperson said. "And the ABS has IBM contracted for other projects, so it's very much a partnership."

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