When former Baltimore CIO Chris Tonjes joined the city in 2012, he inherited a mainframe that was out of warranty and in need of replacement. Equipment was nearing end of life, and Tonjes described Baltimore’s installed base of desktops as “a museum of PCs past.”
Faced with a dire situation, Baltimore overhauled its data center with a fabric-based computing infrastructure and then upgraded the network. The problem that Tonjes faced in having to modernize Baltimore’s systems all at once is not uncommon in government, where budget cuts can postpone much-needed upgrades. Upgrading infrastructure is a necessity that no agency can ignore.
Not unlike the closure of a critical stretch of I-495 in Delaware last summer or the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, failing to maintain infrastructure costs more in the long run than waiting until systems fail before replacing them.
State and local government CIOs face myriad challenges when it comes to keeping infrastructure up to date.
But in order to best serve citizens and keep systems performing optimally, public-sector IT leaders must emphasize the importance of modernizing their infrastructures so they’re equipped to operate in the information economy.
Without these investments, agencies won’t be able to deploy new services if the network, data center, applications or clients aren’t up to snuff. In fact, a 2014 survey from the Center for Digital Government finds that 59 percent of respondents say their agency attempted to deploy a new technology or initiative that failed or proved to be problematic due to an inadequate IT infrastructure.
To fulfill their goals, IT leaders can begin by earmarking a healthy portion of their annual IT budgets toward updating, managing and maintaining their IT infrastructure. Because infrastructure isn’t something that elected officials can see, though, it’s up to the IT department to help them understand the importance of keeping technology current.
IT leaders can also adopt several best practices and technologies to prolong the life of their infrastructure.
- Consolidate data centers. Joining multiple systems, such as servers or email platforms, helps contain costs and reduces the IT administrative burden. Consolidating infrastructure means there are fewer applications and pieces of hardware that the IT organization needs to administer.
- Embrace shared services. Sharing services across multiple departments or agencies spreads the load and optimizes efficiencies. Departments enjoy economies of scale and can access technologies they otherwise might not be able to afford on their own.
- Deploy virtualization. Virtualizing servers reduces the amount of hardware that IT agencies need to purchase and maintain and speeds provisioning of new services. Organizations can stretch the lifecycle of aging PCs by implementing virtual desktop infrastructure, a technology that also lays a solid foundation for mobility.
- Adopt cloud computing. Organizations can reduce the total cost of ownership of IT infrastructure by purchasing cloud technologies such as computing power, storage capacity and applications as a service. A cloud model shifts the focus away from capital investments and makes budgeting more predictable, enabling states and localities to pay as they go for what they use.
By periodically investing in infrastructure enhancements, organizations can ensure they have the underpinnings necessary to support both current and emerging applications.