Jul 21 2014

IaaS Transforms State and Local Governments

Infrastructure as a Service frees agencies from antiquated IT systems and provides them with new technologies and services at reduced cost.

Kentucky CIO James Fowler has a bold prediction about the state data center: “In five to seven years, we won’t be in the infrastructure business anymore,” he says.

Fowler says the skill sets and technologies needed to manage a well-oiled, optimized IT operation can cost a large state millions of dollars. “It’s just become rational to find somebody to partner with us to manage it more economically,” he says. “I’m not sure if it matters if we house the infrastructure here in Frankfort or offsite, but the idea is to pay for usage so I can take some of the capacity planning off my plate.”

Credit: Jonathan Robert Willis

Kentucky CIO James Fowler predicts most organizations will move to IaaS in five to seven years.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, notes that the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud computing model can be compelling for government. Faced with tight budgets, public-sector IT leaders often need to push back equipment refresh cycles.

“IaaS shifts the game,” Bowker says. “Going with a service provider takes the risk out of the equation and gives them the benefit of the latest and greatest technology.”

Laying the Foundation for IaaS

Kentucky developed its IaaS plans in concert with a consolidation effort to centralize the infrastructure of 13 cabinet agencies, dozens of other related agencies and hundreds of state commissions. Fowler will centralize all the computing in the IT offices near the state capitol building, though the various departments will still write and maintain their own applications.

The state was about halfway through the consolidation initiative by spring and plans to complete it by the end of 2015. “I don’t want to take on too much with IaaS until we really know what we have,” says Fowler. “We also want to do this without displacing the people who have worked for us for years.”

Kentucky’s IT department will pilot IaaS technology to gain experience with it, beginning with some proof-of- concept efforts with storage and networking. With the network, for example, Fowler believes that a good approach would be for the state to design and build the network, then hand off administration to a service provider. “We could have our people focused on building and growing the network, while routine daily management tasks are handled by the IaaS provider,” he suggests.

As for other infrastructure services Kentucky may consider, Fowler wants to explore having a service provider run and manage virtual desktop infrastructure. But because the state recently opened a new disaster recovery facility late last year, he won’t consider that as service for several years.

Cost-Efficient Storage in the Cloud

In Mecklenburg County, N.C., moving to Microsoft Azure saved the county $72,000 in reduced rack space alone. Clifford DuPuy, technical services director for Mecklenburg County, opted for Azure when the county needed a more cost-efficient way to manage storage for its new purchasing portal. County workers use the portal to buy PCs and other office equipment.

Whereas the county previously paid $21 per gigabyte of storage, DuPuy says, “with Azure, we pay three cents a gigabyte to pull storage from the cloud when a user needs it. It’s really made a difference to us."

Mecklenburg County has also ported many of its core business applications to Azure, including PeopleSoft human resources, its development environment and document imaging. Plans are also in the works to move the disaster recovery site to Azure.


The percentage of IT managers surveyed who say they use a cloud infrastructure service for data backup, archiving and disaster recovery

SOURCE: “2014 Public Cloud Computing Trends” (Enterprise Strategy Group, March 2014)

DuPuy says the IT group uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) to convert VMware virtual machines to Microsoft Hyper-V. SCCM then sends the new Hyper-V VMs up into Azure. “We’re a big Microsoft shop, so Azure was a natural fit for us,” he says.

In the future, Mecklenburg County may use Azure to host streaming video content for training.

Provisioning IT Services With the CalCloud

The California Department of Technology launched its CalCloud service in July.

Ron Hughes, chief deputy director of operations, says the CalCloud private virtual cloud will offer state agencies, municipalities, K–12 school districts and universities IT services such as server provisioning and backup and disaster recovery through a web portal. A team from AT&T and IBM will manage CalCloud, and the core architecture consists of IBM PureFlex, VMware, NetApp storage and Cisco Nexus switches.

Hughes says CalCloud customers will purchase IT services based on a self-service model that’s similar to a shopping cart on a standard e-commerce site. Customers can choose a predefined server with a default amount of RAM and storage, then pick the operating system (AIX, Linux or Windows) and add more storage or memory as needed. They can also include backup and disaster recovery.

“With CalCloud, provisioning can be completed rapidly,” says Hughes. “Once consumers have subscribed to CalCloud, new virtual servers can be set up and resources can scale, sometimes in as little as a couple of hours. This flexibility allows the consumer to keep their virtual environments in line with their ever-changing business needs.”

Governments will find the flexibility that IaaS offers most useful. For example, failed projects based on proprietary technology could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In the future, if an application doesn’t pan out, the IT staff can take it down and move on to the next project.

“We are definitely headed down the IaaS path and will do this over time,” says Kentucky’s Fowler. “I see us taking a hybrid path in which we will manage by attrition.

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