Nebraska CIO Ed Toner consolidated data services for 22 state agencies but also discovered widespread interest in the project among the state's counties.

States Find Security and Savings in Private Clouds

Consolidating data centers provides redundancy and cost reductions for agencies, IT officials say.

Nebraska once maintained a data center and a separate disaster recovery site. When Nebraska CIO Ed Toner came on board several years ago, he determined that the disaster recovery site was not the most efficient use of resources.

So, Toner closed it and set up a secondary active data center in Douglas County, home to Omaha, the largest city in the state. Douglas County had extra capacity in its powerful data center, and Toner entered into an agreement with the county to colocate each other’s data centers.

The move strengthened Toner’s plan for Nebraska to run a private cloud environment for the state’s cities and counties, which become tenants within the Nebraska cloud. The setup commoditizes hardware and uses network services to provide support for agencies.

The state and county replicate environments using NetApp’s MetroCluster business continuity software. “We write simultaneously to both sites, so we have a secondary data center ready to go,” Toner says.

Toner sought to place all of the jurisdictions running data centers in his state into a powerful collective rather than leave them running as lone operations. In doing so, he established a powerful and effective private cloud that made better use of state and county resources, such as the idle disaster recovery site.

Nebraska is part of a fast-growing segment of government organizations shifting to private clouds. Consolidated virtual data centers provide cost savings by reducing redundant infrastructures; they boost reliability through more robust centralized infrastructures than smaller agencies could support; and they simplify management.

17%

Projected growth in public cloud use through 2021, with government private cloud use expected to grow at twice that rate

Source: Gartner.com, “Understanding Cloud Adoption in Government,” April 11, 2018

But the most compelling reason for many state and local agencies to adopt private cloud technology is increased privacy and security. 

Private clouds provide agencies with full control and ownership of their data, explains Laura DiDio, principal analyst at Information Technology Intelligence Consulting.

“Given the sharp rise in phishing and ransomware attacks on state and local government public and private cloud networks over the past 15 months, it makes perfect sense for them to gain more control and oversight by bringing it in-house,” she says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how state governments benefit from hybrid IT. 

Nebraska Consolidates IT Environments, Shifts to Private Cloud 

Nebraska had fragmented, siloed IT environments, and leaders sought to reduce costs and duplication, and build efficiency by centralizing agencies’ infrastructures. Before they knew it, however, they were providing private cloud services to much of the state.

“We didn’t lay out this plan. We had an 18-month plan to consolidate 22 agencies, and it just took off,” Toner explains. “When you have low costs, high availability, and you beat your public competitors, it’s a no-brainer.”

Toner’s team had been managing 6,000 square feet of data closets that they were able to virtualize and bring into a central data center. They now manage 84 percent of the counties in the state.

Nebraska CIO Ed Toner
When you have low costs, high availability, and you beat your public competitors, it’s a no-brainer."

Ed Toner Nebraska CIO

As the consolidation took hold, Toner focused his energy on building a private cloud for the state’s 22 governor-level cabinet agencies. When other entities saw the rates on the state’s website, however, they opted in. “We didn’t advertise this,” Toner says. “They heard about the pricing models and came to us.”

Before, each county was paying for their own servers. “Now they’re only paying for a fraction of one, and they get that server with failover to another data center — all at 10 percent of the cost they were paying before,” says Toner. “The cost reductions are incredible.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how cloud takes the pain out of permitting processes.

Ohio Creates Shared Solutions for State Agencies via Private Cloud 

The Ohio Office of Information Technology had a head start on its migration to a private cloud. Most of its agencies housed their infrastructure centrally in the State of Ohio Computer Center, which opened in 1991. But by 2013, the SOCC had begun to reach capacity, so the agency partnered with IBM to update the facility. 

Soon after taking office this year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine strengthened that process through InnovateOhio, an executive order to improve data sharing and analytics to foster innovation in the state. A major component is to complete agencies’ migration to the private cloud, says Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers.

“In the past, each agency focused on the most basic elements — network, servers, storage,” explains Ohio COO Mark Smith. “The effort around private cloud created as many shared solutions at an infrastructure layer as we could so we could free up those agencies to provide solutions to the citizens.”

The SOCC supports all 27 state agencies, but seven haven’t fully migrated to the private cloud. “Our goal is to finish by March 2020,” Smith says.

At the core of the private cloud is server virtualization to maximize hardware, Smith explains, citing one row in the data center as an example. It has six racks, housing 254 servers, running 3,982 virtual machines. “We’re maximizing every ounce of compute,” he says. “Before the private cloud, those servers would have been in different locations.”

As more agencies consolidate their infrastructures with the SOCC, it’s able to lower its rates. “We’re in year four, and we’re seeing the costs continue to go down,” Rodgers says. “That’s the power of the optimization project. The more people in, the more we increase the state’s buying power and reduce the overall cost to the citizens.”

Photography by Colin Conces
Sep 24 2019

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