Auckland Transport signs to Microsoft’s cloud services

Auckland Transport has signed a cloud agreement with Microsoft it says will deliver $2.5 million in savings annually as well as allowing for more effective and innovative products.

The agreement, announced this morning, involves shifting AT’s data and computing from on-premises servers to Microsoft Azure cloud through its coming Auckland data centre, as well as receiving training in cloud fundamentals, security, and other digital skills.

AT executive general manager of business technology Roger Jones said the council-controlled organisation currently uses data centres in Singapore as well as on-premises equipment that was nearing the end of its life.

AT receives boosts in business around events, such as the Fifa Women’s World Cup, which will take place at the same time next year as the return of university students to campus, creating an influx of demand on its systems for registering and topping up transport cards.

“We maintain equipment, just for those peak loadings, when you don’t really need it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you can go to something like Azure and scale up and scale down,” Jones said.

“We’ve got a lot of test and development environments that you don’t use that often and buying equipment to do that is yesterday’s way working.”

AT executive general manager of business technology Roger Jones.

Once Microsoft’s data centre is complete and AT’s systems are migrated at a cost of just under $1m to the CCO (Microsoft is also chipping in), an independent review of the initiative expects it to deliver annual savings of about $2.5m.

“As an Auckland citizen you’re paying for every dollar that we spend, so if I can carve out $2.5m of savings and redeploy that or invest that in other parts of the public transport network, or improving your customer experience, then that’s a good thing, rather than me coming to you and saying: ‘Can you give me another two and a half million dollars to do those things?’,” he said.

As far as allowing for innovation, Jones said AT could tap existing services within Azure, such as artificial intelligence, to service the public transport network in real time in a more efficient way, as well as dealing to latency issues between New Zealand and Singapore.

Lower latency

Microsoft New Zealand managing director Vanessa Sorenson said the agreement increases potential for innovation.

“One of the things we’re getting lots of enquiries about is latency – the ability to upload and download data in almost real time – which AT’s CCTV networks at stations and intersections rely on. Having a local data centre region here in Aotearoa means much lower latency than ever, so transport systems can run more smoothly and AT is able to respond faster to security or safety incidents, in partnership with Waka Kotahi and the police.”

Jones said the upskilling side of the agreement would also help from a skills retention point of view: “We’re not a top payer, being a council so, like everybody at the moment, but probably slightly more, we have trouble around retention and recruitment.

“So, being at that leading edge, I wouldn’t say bleeding edge, but being at the leading edge has a definite advantage of people wanting to come and work for you and stay with you because they’re getting upskilled, they’re getting the latest knowledge. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and that’s part of our story as well.”

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