BUDGET COMMITTEE TAKES UP REVISED PROPOSAL FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF SECONDARY DATA CENTRE AT HEADQUARTERS

23 March 2009
GA/AB/3896

BUDGET COMMITTEE TAKES UP REVISED PROPOSAL FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF SECONDARY DATA CENTRE AT HEADQUARTERS

23 March 2009
General Assembly
GA/AB/3896
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Fifth Committee

36th Meeting (AM)

BUDGET COMMITTEE TAKES UP REVISED PROPOSAL FOR ESTABLISHMENT

OF SECONDARY DATA CENTRE AT HEADQUARTERS

 

Several speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today questioned the Secretary-General’s revised proposal for the establishment of a secondary data centre at Headquarters, which would mitigate the risks of service disruptions during the renovations of the United Nations complex in New York and maintain long-term stability of information and communications technology support for United Nations operations.

Last fall, the Committee discussed the Secretary-General’s initial proposal for a secondary data centre in Long Island City, which the Secretariat had decided not to pursue due to a significant escalation of construction cost estimates.  The Secretary-General’s new proposal -- introduced by the Organization’s Chief Information Technology Officer, Choi Soon-hong -- envisions leasing a commercial data facility and obtaining the services of the International Computing Centre, which would install new information and communications technology equipment there.

The representative of Canada, speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said he was pleased that the Secretariat had been able to quickly present an alternate plan to mitigate the risks, which corresponded to the direction provided by the Assembly and provided a good path forward to strengthen disaster recovery and business continuity at Headquarters.

Generally supportive of the nature of the proposal, he believed a number of questions needed to be answered during informals, however.  While committed to providing the Secretariat with needed resources for disaster recovery and business continuity, the countries he represented needed to be convinced that all opportunities for consolidation and prioritization had been exhausted, and that the extra resources requested stood up to critical analysis.  He would also look for reassurances that the proposed course of action would ensure that the Capital Master Plan could proceed as scheduled.

Presenting the report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the matter, its Chair, Susan McLurg, highlighted a number of shortcomings in the proposal, as well as deficiencies in the planning and overall management of the project, which had resulted in a series of delays.  Notwithstanding its misgivings on the proposal, ACABQ recognized that a reliable secondary data centre was a critically important factor in the Capital Master Plan schedule and that disruptions in the provision of some information and communications technology services could have an adverse impact on the operations of the entire Organization.

Given the time constraints, ACABQ found itself in a position where it had no prudent alternative but to recommend approval of the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a new secondary data centre, she said.  At the same time, continued deficiencies in the planning and management must be remedied if the project was to be implemented successfully.

Supporting the Advisory Committee’s position, the representative of the Sudan, who spoke on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it was difficult to make a strategic decision on a substantial investment without proper analysis, information and knowledge of financial implications.  Moreover, the Group of 77 was unconvinced that the proposal was as cost-effective as could be, that it was workable, or even that it could implemented within the suggested timetable.

The Group of 77 was unconvinced that delays were due to “the need to re-evaluate the strategy on the secondary data centre” in light of the Assembly’s resolution on the information and communications technology strategy, he said.  Rather, those delays were the result of a lack of planning, coordination and proper compliance with established rules and regulations.  “This was clearly demonstrated by the Long Island City site fiasco, which was funded through a commitment authority that was never examined nor approved by the Fifth Committee,” he said.

Also speaking this afternoon were representatives of Switzerland and the United States.  The representative of the Sudan, again on behalf of the Group of 77, also made a statement on the preparedness of documentation for the session.

The Committee will take up financing of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and special political missions at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 24 March.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to consider the Secretary-General’s proposal, under the agenda item on information and communications technology, for the establishment of a secondary data centre at Headquarters.

The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on arrangements for a secondary data centre at Headquarters (document A/63/743), which responds to the General Assembly’s decision, contained in resolution 63/262, not to approve his initial proposal for a secondary data centre, as a result of the unsuitability of the proposed Long Island City site.  It also addresses additional requests that he report on the risk mitigation measures to be taken during the relocation of the primary data centre to the North Lawn, present a new proposal for a secondary data centre and consolidate systems in central data centres in order to strengthen disaster recovery and business continuity.

To this end, the Secretary-General proposes that the Secretariat lease a commercial data facility and obtain the services of the International Computing Centre, which would install new information and communications technology equipment there.  All systems from the current secondary data centre in the DC-2 building would migrate to the leased facility by 1 November 2009, thereby providing a reliable backup during the primary data centre’s relocation.  (The plan for that relocation envisages a phased approach, spanning four months, from November 2009 to February 2010.)  The data centre in the DC-2 building would be retained in working condition throughout the move to mitigate the risk of disruption to services and the impact on the Capital Master Plan’s schedule.  The new facility’s lease would run from 1 July 2009 to December 2011, thus allowing for flexibility in adjusting to changes in scope.  It would also offer a viable solution for the secondary data centre for Headquarters in the short term.

The resources required for the new secondary data centre comprise a non-recurrent requirement related to the setting up of the new systems, recurrent expenditures for managing the data centre operations, including equipment and related maintenance, and recurrent expenditures for the lease of the facility, including power and cooling.  The total costs, estimated in the amount of $25.74 million are to be cost-shared between the programme budget and the peacekeeping support account.

The proposals for a permanent solution for the secondary data centre for United Nations Headquarters will be presented prior to the biennium 2012-2013, duly addressing requests by the General Assembly in its resolution 63/262 with regard to reducing the size of secondary data centres and re-engineering departmental applications with a view to the predominant use of enterprise data centres.

The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/63/774), outlines its serious concerns in respect of the Secretary-General’s proposals, pointing out that his report does not provide a complete analysis of the costs that are likely to be incurred over the lifespan of the project.  As a result, the Organization has been put in a difficult position, being forced to make an urgent strategic decision in respect of a substantial investment, which is lacking in analysis and overall information on financial implications.  More importantly, ACABQ is not convinced that the proposal put forward is the most cost-effective or the most workable one.

The Secretary-General himself acknowledges the challenging timetable for the project and the significant risk that the deadline for the commissioning of the data centre will not be met, the report states.  The Assembly, in its resolution 63/262, requested the Secretary-General to report on the risk mitigation measures during the relocation of the primary centre to the North Lawn, but the Secretary-General’s proposal does not appear to provide the assurance that its implementation will sufficiently mitigate those risks.

However, the Advisory Committee recognizes the importance of the project.  Under the circumstances and given the time constraints, ACABQ finds itself in a position where it has no prudent alternative but to recommend approval of the proposal to establish the new secondary data centre.  Accordingly, it recommends that the Assembly take note of the total estimate of some $25.74 million for the project, as well as the Secretariat’s strategy of entering into a service delivery agreement with the International Computing Centre.

It recommends approval of additional requirements of $3.77 million for the Office of Information and Communications Technology, and $1.99 million for the Office of Central Support Services, under the programme budget for the biennium 2008-2009.  About $2.38 million would be included in the proposed budget of the peacekeeping support account for the period from 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2010.

The Advisory Committee does not object to the cost-sharing arrangement for the proposed new data centre, but recommends that the approach for dividing costs between the regular and peacekeeping budgets be re-examined.  Under the current approach, the cost-sharing ratio of peacekeeping to non‑peacekeeping activities is established on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the proportion of peacekeeping and non-peacekeeping operations at each site.  In the future, as Brindisi becomes an Organization-wide hub centralizing enterprise applications used across the United Nations, it may be timely to consider shifting towards the application of a common cost-sharing arrangement between peacekeeping and non-peacekeeping operations across the Organization.

Also recommended is a review of the migration strategy in order to seek efficiencies, prioritize among the critical and non-critical applications, optimize the utilization of existing facilities, and ensure that the scope of the project is as lean as possible, consistent with the need to preserve the integrity of the Organization’s data.  The Advisory Committee believes that continuing deficiencies in the planning and management of this project must be remedied.  Successful implementation will require effective leadership and management, as well as clearly defined roles and responsibilities, rigorous monitoring of progress, procedures to ensure quick corrective action, should problems emerge, and accountability mechanisms.

The Secretary-General should also be requested to ensure that robust, technically sound solutions are put into place.  In this connection, the Advisory Committee recommends utilizing the services of an independent expert to validate the plan and provide advice to the implementation team, without disrupting the project schedule, to be funded from within existing resources.  ACABQ also requests that measures be taken to ensure confidentiality of the Organization’s data during the relocation of the primary data centre from the Secretariat Building to the North Lawn facility.

Introduction of Documents

CHOI SOON-HONG, Chief Information Technology Officer, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, recalling that, last fall, the Fifth Committee had discussed the Secretary-General’s proposal for a secondary data centre in the United Nations Federal Credit Union buildings in Long Island City, which the Secretariat had decided not to pursue due to a significant escalation of construction cost estimates.  That proposal had outlined the urgent requirement for a reliable secondary data centre to replace the current unreliable one in the DC-2 building.  The new centre was needed in order to mitigate the risks of disruptions to information and communications technology services during the move of the primary data centre to the North Lawn building during the Capital Master Plan and to maintain long-term stability of information and communications technology support for United Nations operations.

“As we explain in the current proposal, the DC-2 data centre has inadequate power and cooling capacity and no emergency generator power,” he said.  Since last summer, several core systems had been shut down repetitively to mitigate problems associated with overheating.  The electrical infrastructure of the building was near its maximum capacity.  With those severe constraints, that data centre could not act as a primary data centre during the migration of the production systems to the North Lawn data centre.  The move would significantly increase the already high risks associated with the unreliable DC-2 centre.  Based on the Capital Master Plan schedule, the new secondary centre must be fully operational by the end of October 2009, and constructing a new data centre would not be feasible for that deadline.  Due to the time constraint and the high cost of delay, the current proposal was to lease a commercial facility that was “data-centre ready”.  Information and communications technology equipment and telecommunication links were available in the tri-state New York area and could be leased for varying durations, with options to increase or decrease capacity as necessary.

He also described the proposal to engage the International Computing Centre to provide the necessary equipment and manage the data centre in the leased facility.  That proposal would definitely reduce the risk of delays in establishing the secondary data centre in a timely manner.

The report of ACABQ was presented by its Chair, SUSAN MCLURG, who said that there were a number of shortcomings in the proposal, as well as deficiencies in the planning and overall management of the project, resulting in a series of delays.  The Advisory Committee pointed out that the Secretariat had been aware of the requirements for a secondary data centre and the constraints of the Capital Master Plan for some time.  The delays could have been avoided if the Secretariat had taken a more proactive approach, anticipating potential issues and preparing for a variety of contingencies.

The Advisory Committee’s consideration of the proposal would have been facilitated if more complete costing information had been provided in the report, she continued.  Notwithstanding its misgivings on the proposal, ACABQ recognized that a reliable secondary data centre was a critically important factor in the Capital Master Plan schedule and that disruptions in the provision of some information and communications technology services could have an adverse impact on the operations of the entire Organization.  Given the time constraints, the Advisory Committee found itself in a position where it had no prudent alternative but to recommend approval of the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a new secondary data centre.  At the same time, continued deficiencies in the planning and management must be remedied if the project was to be implemented successfully.  The Secretary-General should be requested to ensure effective leadership and management of the project, as well as clearly defined roles and responsibilities, rigorous monitoring of progress against performance targets, procedures to ensure that corrective action was taken quickly should problems emerge, and mechanisms to hold individuals accountable for their areas of responsibility.  Robust, technically sound solutions should be put into place.

Statements

MOHAMED YOUSIF IBRAHIM ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group of 77 recognized the Secretariat’s need for a sound information and communications technology infrastructure, and believed that investment in that area was crucial to ensure that the United Nations operated with efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and with a sense of accountability.  It was also crucial in ensuring the Organization responded effectively to emergency situations.  Resolution 63/262 provided the guidelines and resources to reform the United Nations information and communications technology strategy.

He recalled that the proposal to establish a secondary data centre in Long Island City had been withdrawn because of a lack of technical capacity, resulting in a waste of resources, as a 10-year lease had already been signed for the site.  Now that measures were being taken to relocate the primary data centre to the North Lawn, the Assembly was requesting a report on risk mitigation in light of that move -- an issue which was also important to the Group of 77.

Nevertheless, the current proposal presented some of the same problems as the one that had been before the Fifth Committee during the main part of the sixty-third session, he said.  It was difficult to make a strategic decision on a substantial investment without proper analysis, information and knowledge of financial implications.  Moreover, the Group of 77 was unconvinced that the proposal was as cost-effective as it could be, that it was workable, or even that it could be implemented within the suggested timetable.

He said the report did not respond to the Assembly’s request to consolidate systems in central data centres and to prioritize systems in order to minimize the cost of disaster recovery and business continuity.  It was disappointing that the Secretariat had yet to prepare a classification of critical and non-critical systems, which would allow a clear prioritization of the systems to be backed up in the secondary data centre.  The proposal presented excessive risks in terms of the number of relocations and in its cost, since it might call for staff to be mobilized who would otherwise be employed to implement the long-term information and communications technology strategy, in projects such as the enterprise resource planning system.  He also expressed concern over the lack of measures to ensure security and confidentiality of data, particularly in view of plans to use an external commercial data centre.

He expressed agreement with ACABQ in thinking that the proposal before the Committee exhibited “continued deficiencies” in the planning and management of the project.  It appeared to be based on “an improvised reaction” to situations as they arose, rather than through sound strategic considerations.  The Group of 77 was unconvinced that delays were due to “the need to re-evaluate the strategy on the secondary data centre” in light of resolution 63/262.  Rather, those delays were the result of a lack of planning, coordination and proper compliance with established rules and regulations.  “This was clearly demonstrated by the Long Island City site fiasco, which was funded through a commitment authority that was never examined nor approved by the Fifth Committee,” he said, adding that he would seek more information during informal consultations.

CHRIS PLUNKETT (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, expressed his commitment to a modern, efficient and effective United Nations, which required modern and efficient information and communications technology.  Last December, the Fifth Committee had recognized that fact when it had agreed to a new information and communications technology strategy, as well as the implementation of enterprise resource planning.  However, he noted the Committee’s continued concern with the Secretary-General’s proposal on the secondary data centre, which had been found to be technically unsuitable and had been subsequently withdrawn.  The impending relocation of the primary data centre to the North Lawn brought more concerns, with the very real possibility of cost escalation and the risk to data and information and communications technology services.

Despite that, he said, he was pleased to see that the Secretariat had been able to quickly present an alternate plan to mitigate those risks.  The plan corresponded directly to the direction provided by the Assembly and provided a good path forward to strengthen disaster recovery and business continuity at Headquarters.  While he would have preferred to be able to consider a unified disaster recovery and business continuity plan, he agreed with the Secretary-General that the first priority was to provide a viable solution for the secondary data centre in the short term.  That was particularly true given ongoing work on the Capital Master Plan and, most notably, the upcoming relocation of the primary data centre to the North Lawn.

However, he stressed that a number of questions needed answering during the Committee’s informal session on the issue.  He said he needed to be convinced that all opportunities for consolidation and prioritization had been exhausted, and that the extra resources requested stood up to critical analysis.  He would also look for reassurances that the proposed course of action would ensure that work on the Capital Master Plan could proceed as scheduled.

THOMAS GÜRBER ( Switzerland) said that, in the face of crisis, a well-known politician had once said: “Decisions are easy when no options are left.”  While that was true, he certainly preferred the tough choice between valid options over easy decision-making.  With regard to the concrete proposal before the Committee, he had little to add to the bleak observations of ACABQ.  As a matter of fact, the delegations had been put in a position where they had no time to discuss a proposal they knew too little about and were not sure whether it would actually work.  At the same time, no one in the room was in a position to present a sound, cost-effective and feasible counter-proposal.  He, therefore, shared the unease many felt in such a situation.

However, it would be dangerous to disregard the importance of information and communications technology security and business continuity altogether, he continued.  By rebuffing the proposal, the Committee would only punish those who relied on the Organization’s capacity to fulfil its many mandates in a reliable and uninterrupted manner, especially in the field.  In the absence of a “plan B”, his delegation was ready to engage in a focused discussion on the proposed leasing of a commercial data centre facility in order to better understand and possibly optimize it, especially with regard to its cost-effectiveness.

STEPHEN A. RONAGHAN ( United States) said his delegation recognized the fundamental importance of having an uninterrupted flow of information and communications technology services, and the need for a fully operational data backup system to mitigate the risk of losing vital services and critical information.  In light of the challenges the Secretariat had encountered in setting up the secondary data centre, he remained concerned that the setbacks experienced reflected a lack of sound contingency planning.  He would appreciate it if the Secretariat clearly articulated the steps taken to remedy that situation.  He sought assurances that the Secretary-General’s proposal was the best possible one and that it would sufficiently mitigate any risk.  He trusted that the Secretariat would better anticipate any subsequent needs throughout the duration, not only of the current project, but on all components of the information and communications technology strategy launched in resolution 63/262.

It was regrettable that such a decision needed to be made when additional analysis in relation to the option to be undertaken was still outstanding.  However, the execution of the Capital Master Plan would be significantly impacted without such a decision.  The report of ACABQ provided an appropriate framework for approaching the discussion on the issue.  His delegation would like to remind the Secretariat that, given the difficult economic conditions and rapidly escalating expenses under both the regular and peacekeeping budgets, it was necessary to ensure that the resources provided by Member States were used in an efficient, effective and transparent manner.

Addressing other business, Mr. ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), on behalf of the Group of 77, reiterated its long-standing position on the late issuance of documents in all six official languages, and recalled that, at the Committee’s last formal meeting, two groups had unfairly blamed the problem of late documents on ACABQ.  While the Group of 77 was also concerned about the “endemic problem” of the late issuance of documents, it would distance itself from unwarranted attacks on ACABQ and its Chair.

He noted the sharp increase in ACABQ’s workload in recent years, which had led the Fifth Committee to recommend an extension of ACABQ sessions by two weeks.  In fact, ACABQ did “sterling work”, for which the Fifth Committee owed its gratitude.  The Group of 77 commended ACABQ for the quality of its reports and the exceptional guidance it provided to the Fifth Committee, which it was able to render despite facing many hurdles and systematic challenges, including the limited scope for burden-sharing within ACABQ.  Indeed, the ACABQ Chairperson did not have the “pleasure” of freely delegating responsibility to the Vice-Chairperson, because the latter “did not get remunerated for occupying this post”, nor for “sharing the workload of the Chairman”.

He said it was “bizarre” to blame ACABQ for the Organization’s systemic challenges without showing the will to improve the conditions under which the ACABQ worked.  He expressed hope that addressing the conditions of service of the ACABQ would be resolved urgently, and invited others to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.