Interview

State Data Centre: Backbone for Service Delivery : S.P. Singh, Senior Director, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and IT, Government of India

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S P Singh has been with Department of Information Technology for over 25 years   and held various positions. S.P. Singh has been involved in the preparation of National e-Governance Plan. He is also responsible for e-Governance implementation in Urban Local Bodies (Municipalities), Agriculture sector and e-Procurement which are very large and ambitious initiatives of the Government of India.

State Data Centre (SDC) has been identified as one of the important element of the core infrastructure under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). How is SDC envisioned to support e-Governance initiatives of NeGP?

As a part of NeGP, there is a requirement to create the core infrastructure which will support the various mission mode projects that are envisaged under the NeGP. SDC is one of the important elements of the core infrastructure which is required to be established in the States/UTs. Basically the SDC will support consolidating the services, applications and infrastructure to provide efficient electronic delivery of G2G, G2C and G2B services. It will be a well secured infrastructure created in each State  where all the line departments who have their applications ready, would be in a position to host their applications and therefore, in a position to render services to end beneficiaries electronically.

What is the implementation strategy adopted? What is the role of private sector in implementing the SDCs?

The implementation of State Data Centre poses many challanges and is a complex task. The operational and design issues with regard to reliablity, availability, scalability, serviceability, business continuity plan apart from optimum power and cooling are critical. Further, data security, ownership and effecient operations and management are vital issues. The Department of IT has formulated policy guidelines wherein various issues have been addressed including the implementation options and international best practices. Basically there are two options given to the States, one the state can create infrastructure of their own, where the entire physical and IT infrastructure shall be responsibility of the state government and and two, the state can leverage  on the physical infrastructure  of a commercial IDC where the private sector will be involved including facilities and maintenance of the physical and IT infrastructure. However in both the cases, the state IT Department/ State implementing agency shall be responsible for the security of SDC including  technical and operational issues.

Does the state IT departments have the technical capacity to handle the SDC?

SDC for any state is a crucial digital infrastructure including security which is of paramount importance as there may be several mission critical applications, sensitive data hosted in the SDC. There could not be any compromise on data security and privacy. This issue has been well taken care in the policy guidelines which would need to be adhered to by the state implementing agency. The states may not be fully prepared/may not have duly qualified technical personnel resources to take care and manage these vital issues. The SDC scheme provides augmenting as well as hiring domain specialists by the state the required technical resources. Furthermore, the technical resources of NIC expected to be part of the state data centre team would provide adequate technical capacity to handle the SDCs.

What are the business opportunities for the private sector?

The entire SDC scheme involves an outlay of Rs 1600 crores over a period of five years. This includes both capital and operational costs. The scheme provides opportunities to several segments of business within the Private Sector, namely: Infrastructure Sector (Civil, Electrical & Mechanical Work), Services Sector (Operations & Maintenance of the Data Centre site) as well as IT Sector (System Integrators, Commercial Data Centre) etc.

What is the current status of implementation of the SDCs?

Good governance is possible only if you have clearly defined services, which are going to be made available to citizens and business coupled with  service levels. Certain states have taken advance action and they have come up with data centres through their own initiatives providing statewide services. But, they are not of the scale which, we are now talking and intiating as part of NeGP. The limited facilities at the state level shall have to be scaled up in terms of both infrastructure and computing  including important features like security, data backup and disaster recovery startegies. The implementation of data centres in the States shall commence once the scheme is approved by the government and states prepare and submit their detailed project plans. Typically a data centre would require 9-12 months for setting up and operationalzation.

How do you ensure that states adhere to the guidelines on SDC specified by DIT?

Adherence to guidelines shall be ensured through a multi-pronged approach, which shall include distribution of best practices, well-defined templates for data centre and other related technical requirements. Further, consultants at state level would provide technical guidance and regularly monitor the SDC activities within the broad framework of policy guidelines. Moreover a robust mechanism of monitoring & evaluation both at the state level as well as at national level through empowered committee envisaged would ensure conformance and compliance to the guidelines.

What are the challenges in implementation such as ownership issues, providing secured environment, and the like?

The challenges are many. There will be challenges like state IT department getting the buy-in from other line departments to use the SDC infrastructure and hosting their applications, migration of departmental applications from one location to the SDC.

Further, this will require a total business like approach by the state IT department to ensure and provide service level operation and performance of the data centre. The real challenge will be ensuring data centre availabilty  as such. The maintenance of the data centre and ensuring its continuty, will put in a lot of responsibility on the state IT departments.

What is the plan to link the state data centre with the national data centre? Which other government departments (like NIC, Income Tax department, customs) have initiated / or are planning data centres? How is the SDC plan under NEGP similar or different from them?

State Data Centre would largely be hosting state level applications while the national data centres being set up by NIC shall be for center level applications. Certain central departments are also setting up their own data centres. There may be requirement for both central and state level applications to interact with each other and to be linked accordingly through the national service delivery gateway. Such kind of service delivery gateways will also be there in the state data centres which will act as a middleware providing interaction with different applications. Our vision is that SDC becomes consolidated, well secured, technically and professionally managed backbone for service delivery by the state governments.

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