“What it does is put everything into one integrated system, so instead of having to manage the server and storage environments separately, you do it all through a single pane of glass,” says Sam Orth, CTO, Columbus, Ohio.

Sep 17 2021

Hyperconverged Infrastructure Empowers Cities to Scale Citizen Services

Municipalities deploy HCI solutions to expand storage, compute and networking on demand.

Today, officials in Columbus, Ohio are pleased to have adopted hyperconverged infrastructure, an investment that paves the way for the future, according to the city’s Department of Technology.

“We decided to take a completely different approach to how we provision infrastructure,” explains Columbus CTO Sam Orth. “The goal was to modernize, to become nimbler — to be able to stand up infrastructure on demand.”

The department moved to a hyperconverged infrastructure ­environment built around Dell EMC’s HCI product, VxRail, Orth says. The software-defined platform, which Dell developed with VMware, sits atop the city’s two data centers to combine and virtualize existing servers and storage.

“What it does is put everything into one integrated system, so instead of having to manage the server and storage environments ­separately, you do it all through a single pane of glass,” Orth says.­

Furthermore, the HCI architecture makes it easy to add capacity. “One of the challenges we have as a government IT service provider is that we can’t always predict what systems we’re going to acquire down the road. With HCI, when we need to grow, instead of having to make a large capital investment to rebuild our entire infrastructure, all we have to do is buy another brick or node,” Orth says.

“For a lot of agencies, and over the past year especially, HCI has become their fast-track on-ramp into modernization,” says Christian Perry, a senior research analyst with 451 Research, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence. The main reason for increased HCI ­adoption? “Ease of scaling,” he says. Officials can easily expand storage, compute and networking all in one place with HCI solutions.

Many cities had already developed IT modernization plans before the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated them. “The pandemic forced their hand,” Perry says. “They realized they needed to get those strategies in gear, and a lot of them decided hyperconvergence was the way to go.”

HCI Helps Increase Government Service Capacity

That’s exactly what Columbus did last spring, at the height of the city’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, Orth says. While municipalities across the country struggled with long appointment wait lines as thousands of people tried to log on to their systems at once, Columbus handled the surge with relative ease.

“With virtual machines on top of HCI, we had the ability to reprovision those systems in near real time,” Orth says. “We gave them more compute, more memory, more capability, and that allowed people to get through a lot faster, and it probably saved them a lot of frustration.”

Sam Orth, CTO, Columbus, Ohio
We decided to take a completely different approach to how we provision infrastructure.”

Sam Orth CTO, Columbus, Ohio

The Columbus Department of Technology is a lot like any other in its mission to provide citizens with the ­services they need despite the team’s limited staff resources. “We don’t have as many people as we’d like, but we’re still going to do everything we can to make sure that our customers are happy,” Orth says.

HCI makes managing the city’s IT systems “as straightforward and simple as possible,” he says, “and it just makes us so much more productive by drastically improving our operational efficiencies.”

RELATED: Find out how HCI provides faster storage for government applications. 

Newington, Conn., Turns to HCI to Streamline IT Footprint

Orth and his team in Columbus aren’t the only ones in government IT singing the praises of hyperconverged infrastructure.

In Newington, Conn., where Paul G. Boutot is CIO, the town turned to HCI to simplify network operations and lower operating expenses. Newington is now on its second generation of hyperconverged equipment, deploying HPE Simplivity, Boutot says.

The HPE implementation has minimized and simplified the town’s data center footprint through rack space savings, reduced network cabling and switching, and better energy efficiency, Boutot says. The town also sees gains in backup and disaster recovery performance, and in its ability to manage IT systems without disrupting customer workflows.

“We can easily fail over production servers to different hosts so we can upgrade core components during normal business hours with little to no impact on our users or citizens,” Boutot says.

EXPLORE: How does upgraded IT infrastructure support modern digital government? 

Hyperconvergence Helps Pearland, Texas, Expand Rapidly 

Ensuring that his team has the technology it needs to meet the growing demands of city residents is also a top priority for Daniel McGhinnis, CIO of Pearland, Texas.

36%

The percentage of survey respondents that want to increase their HCI budget in 2021 to support new IT initiatives or ­project requirements

Source: spglobal.com, “Hyperconverged Tech Investment Set to Rise, Fueled by Enterprise IT — 451 Survey,” Jan. 25, 2021

“At the end of the day,” McGhinnis says, “everything we do in this department ties back to providing high-quality services to our citizens and businesses.”

That mission has become more ­difficult in recent years as Pearland’s population has “exploded,” McGhinnis says. The city is home to about 120,000 people, and its government alone includes 800 employees. His department has a staff of 18, which is lean.

When McGhinnis became CIO in 2015, the city would acquire additional servers to accommodate IT growth when it added a new service or software application. These acquisitions created management challenges.

“It takes personnel resources to schedule and implement all the updates and patches and everything else that’s required just for general maintenance,” McGhinnis says. With modernization in mind, officials adopted the Cisco HyperFlex hyperconverged solution.

“The beauty behind hyperconverged is how easy it is to expand. I just buy some additional hard drives and stick them in the boxes,” McGhinnis says.

Through gains in networking and operational performance, the HyperFlex infrastructure also enabled the city to implement a range of new technologies. 

Meanwhile, maintenance is largely automated, and downtime is never an issue. “Now, I can just shift server workloads off of the box that’s being updated and onto the ones that are up and available,” McGhinnis says

Photography by Jonathan Robert Willis