Using Leading Edge Technologies to Reduce Operational Costs

By Arthur Riel, Director of Infrastructure & Middleware Engineering, The World Bank Group

Arthur Riel, Director of Infrastructure & Middleware Engineering, The World Bank Group

Perceptions about technology in the World Bank have shifted over the past few years. For nearly a decade, while technology revolutionized the way companies operated in the outside world, the Bank kept technology investments to a minimum because they were viewed as an added cost, not as added value. Over the past three years, perceptions have changed dramatically. There is greater understanding of the value that can be generated through investments in technology. With improved computing power, ubiquitous access, and secure, reliable management of our data, we can work more effectively to find new, innovative solutions to the world’s toughest development issues.

The Bank’s more than 25,000+ workforce operates out of 180 field offices, many of which are in difficult to reach regions of the world. This made it critical to look at our intricate technology infrastructure and start driving it toward current trends to keep Bank staff better connected, while minimizing costs. With this in mind, in 2015 we began focusing on three major initiatives: reducing our data center footprint, moving to the cloud, and consolidating asset management resources.

Looking at Data Centers

The Bank has five data centers that account for a large sum of operational costs annually. While no other major development partner had yet made the move to the cloud, we were confident it made sense for us to begin development of a cloud strategy, a central component of which would be to reduce our data center footprint. However, as a first step, we needed to identify what could be decommissioned.

“Accurate asset management played a key role in helping us determine what could move the cloud”

Accurate asset management played a key role in helping us determine what could move the cloud. We were able to discover devices attached to the network, so we could reconcile with our known inventory and eliminate orphaned hardware. We then used a Data Center Inventory Management system to maintain a clean hardware list with the physical footprint and power usage of each device in our data centers. Through this exercise, we discovered that we could remove approximately five percent of our servers to generate cost savings.

Moving to the Cloud

We are now implementing a hybrid cloud model that allows for a controlled move of assets,starting with those that had a lower risk profile. We started by moving email, file sharing, some SharePoint capabilities and the Client Relationship Management (CRM) function to the cloud. Next, we will continue with data backup, disaster recovery and a collection of selected applications and platforms.

Approximately 28,000 staff email and service accounts and 140 TB of archived data were moved to the cloud last year as part of our email service transition to Microsoft Outlook O365. Implemented over nine months using an accelerated deployment approach, this move has resulted in annualized and a 50 percent reduction in operations and maintenance costs.

Half of our backup plant is currently being placed in the cloud to store the most recent backup on premise (for rapid retrieval) and the archive copies to AWS cloud storage. This has resulted in a 12 percent savings in backup costs. To further reduce backup needs, we are looking to migrate all shared drives to our cloud-based file sharing solution, which will result in eliminating 30 percent of our backup plant infrastructure.

As part of our “cloud first” initiative, a cloud-based disaster recovery strategy is being implemented to help ensure that our data is secure and accessible and that we can continue with business operations, even during emergencies. This is important for us because many of the regions where we operate are vulnerable to political unrest and natural disasters. Now, with our email and documents in the cloud, we can ensure faster recovery to continue with business as usual.

We are looking to further expand our disaster recovery strategy by replicating critical system data to the cloud, along with the images of our production servers. In the event of a disaster, we can activate the images which can use the replicated data to continue operations. This will replace millions of dollars in hardware used as our current disaster recovery strategy.

Finally, selected platforms are also being deployed to the cloud, including our Client Relationship Management (CRM) and SharePoint platforms. Cloud-based Microsoft Dynamics is being used for most of our CRM needs, and we will migrate our virtual machine SharePoint farm to the cloud later this year.

Our strategy of cloud first has allowed us to move additional resources to the cloud, further freeing space and allowing for additional consolidation opportunities. Among the applications being prioritized to move to the cloud are: WB Open Data a website that provides free, open and easy access to statistics and indicators in multiple languages, Regions Online a platform for sharing information and knowledge, finding internal expertise, and accessing operations data and portfolio information and eConsultant2, the Bank’s consultant and vendor management system.

As an added benefit of moving to the cloud, our data is accessible from anywhere and at any time to enable us to collaborate better internally and be more agile in responding to our clients and partners.

Asset Consolidation

To reduce our infrastructure footprint, a big effort was undertaken to consolidate assets. Many platforms grew organically as various groups deployed point solutions to them; consolidating these platforms has helped us to reduce the number of servers and associated licenses. Substantial reductions have been made around database and web application servers while new storage and server strategies are being used to replace cyclically replenished hardware and help us further reduce our infrastructure footprint.

We have replaced our traditional server/storage configured SAP infrastructure with VBlock appliances, reducing physical/electrical footprint and obtaining a reduction of approximately 40 percent in operations and maintenance cost. A portion of our high-end Oracle database infrastructure has been replaced with Exadata devices. In addition,we planto replace large portions of our server plant with consolidated hardware devices. The expectation is savings that approximates that found on the VBlock devices.

The Results

By implementing these technologies and new strategies, we will reduce our data center footprint sufficiently to decommission three of our fivedata center facilities. By the end of 2016, our data center operating costs will be reduced by approximately 30 percent annually.

One of the two remaining data center facilities will be a co-located facility. This will allow us to increase cost savings as we aggressively migrate additional services to the cloud and it is an important step given that high fixed-cost facilities do not allow us to recoup savings from cloud migrations. We will eventually move to a two co-location site data center strategy to maximize these types of optimizations.

This is a big shift for an institution that just a few years ago had servers in all of its 280 field offices. With key applications such as email and documents now in the cloud, we are able to ensure that our staff is mobile and can carry on with daily operations in an ever-changing, volatile world.