Mar 10 2015

States Up Their Data Center Game

They’re consolidating facilities, rationalizing apps and even hosting workloads for other governments.

A number of state and local governments are downsizing IT staff through attrition, collapsing data centers and rationalizing applications.

They’re gradually backing out of the data-center business and tapping commercial vendors to host government applications in the cloud. In some cases, they’re co-locating with other governments.

In Ohio, the state has roughly five acres of raised floor space, said Spencer Wood, the state’s deputy CIO and chief operations officer, who was one of more than a dozen IT officials speaking Monday at Beyond the Beltway, in northern Virginia. The state's 20-year-old data center has three levels, but two-thirds of that space goes unused.

“We could probably put the entire state IT enterprise in probably about half that data-center space,” said Wood. The state’s data center is located on The Ohio State University’s campus.

Wood remembers when the university was planning to build a new $20 million data center, but through a joint partnership the university instead used the state’s existing data center. The facility is also hosting assets for local governments.

Will States Own Data Centers in 10 Years?

Steve Nichols, chief technology officer for the Georgia Technology Authority, expects states and cities that have not already consolidated a significant amount of their IT assets will rely heavily on cloud-based IT services over the next decade and will not have a central data center. That’s not the case in Georgia.

“We’re probably at our high water mark as far as the data-center footprint, but we’re absolutely still going to have a data center in 10 years,” Nichols said.

States that have consolidated a great deal will still own a data center or two, he added. He projects that, in the future, about half of the state’s workload will be in the cloud, including development and test work and low-impact systems, or systems that would have a low impact on organizational operations and assets if they were disrupted. Workloads that are subject to federal regulations will remain in government facilities, he noted.

It’s All About the Apps

In Ohio, IT optimization includes consolidating multiple data centers and state networks into one facility and paring down to a single network, Wood said.

“We’ve been on this journey for about two years,” he explained. “We are already seeing about $50 million in cost savings.” Wood expects those savings will continue annually. But the journey hasn’t been easy.

“We started asking agencies how many servers they had,” Wood said. Initially, agencies reported they had 5,000 servers. Right now, that number is probably closer to 10,000. Getting a handle on the state’s applications has been equally hard. But Wood knows that apps are “where the real innovation is.”

The state has more technology staff dedicated to infrastructure than to application development. Wood wants to see more funding poured into creating and maintaining apps.

“Citizens don’t care about what kind of server we run or what type of data center we have or what type of storage,” he said. “They don’t care. All they want to know is that my mom can sign up for services or I can get a business license faster to operate in the state.”


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