David Cucciarre, IT Manager for New York’s Delaware County, led an initiative to refresh the county government's data center, which minimized moving workloads to the cloud.

Sep 26 2023
Data Center

These Counties Upgraded Their On-Premises Data Centers

Local governments refreshed their legacy infrastructure to enhance IT services.

When Delaware County, the largest of four counties in New York’s scenic Catskill Mountains, began planning a data center refresh in 2021, it knew cloud would play a role. It didn’t know how limited that role might be.

“Twenty percent,” says Delaware County IT Manager David Cucciarre. “I thought it would be a higher number, but as it turned out, only about 20 percent of what we did was going to benefit from the cloud.”

When the pandemic struck, moving systems to the cloud was seen as an accelerant for digital transformation. Now, as IT departments evaluate their data center needs, many are realizing that “everything to the cloud was an over-adjustment,” says Sean Graham, research director for cloud to edge data center trends at IDC.

IT organizations are “repatriating” workloads and making data center upgrades to control costs and ensure data privacy, Graham says.

“For IT, it’s more an issue of finding the right environment for workloads,” he adds. “In cases where the workloads are predictable, or where latency is an issue, or you don’t need burst capabilities, those are more efficient to do on-premises. And in state and local government, data sovereignty is becoming more crucial. Agencies want to keep sensitive data in-house where they can manage, control and access it.”

DISCOVER: Here is how data center optimization helps government agencies do more with less. 

On-Premises Data Centers Can Accelerate Workloads

Funded by a grant from Amazon Web Services, Delaware County commissioned a study of its data center workloads to inform its refresh.

“We were interested in knowing, can we shut down a data center? Minimize our second data center? Move to the cloud completely? And what will it cost over time?” Cucciarre says. “We were told, essentially, don’t be surprised by the lower percentage. Because the nature of our business is government, we’d benefit more from upgrades in our data center.”

The cloud provider that funded the study was disappointed, Cucciarre says, but Delaware County IT now had a plan to move certain capabilities to the cloud while overhauling its network and data center infrastructures to better serve its 35 departments and 800-plus employees.

“Delaware County is a small county as far as the number of constituents goes,” Cucciarre says. “But we have to maintain the same amount of infrastructure and services as bigger places.”


The share of state CIOs pursuing infrastructure consolidation to deliver services to state agencies

Source: NASCIO, “The People Imperative: The 2022 State CIO Survey,” October 2022

Improving access was a motivating factor in the county’s data center refresh, which overhauled most of its infrastructure. The county operates two data centers with mirrored equipment for redundancy, continuity of operations, disaster recovery and backup.

Having worked with its local telephone company to secure enough dark fiber, Delaware County upgraded its networks to provide gigabit-plus connectivity throughout its 11 sites, including 1 gigabit per second to remote locations and 100Gbps in its network core.

“For some applications, we’ve extended 25 gig to the edge,” Cucciarre says. For example, the public works department’s engineers access large volumes of county data for road and highway planning, including mapping information that dates to the 1700s.

Since the refresh, productivity across all county departments has improved noticeably “because we’ve seen a dramatic increase in throughput,” he says.

In addition to new fiber connections, Delaware County refreshed more than 60 Cisco Systems network switches throughout its infrastructure. It migrated its data center storage systems from spinning disk to flash-based Pure Storage arrays and upgraded its Cisco perimeter security and network monitoring systems. The county adopted Veeam data protection solutions for backup and recovery.

“It used to be, we’d start a backup on Friday afternoon and let it run over the weekend,” Cucciarre says. “Now, what we used to do in days takes just hours.”

David Cucciarre
Now, what we used to do in days takes just hours.”

David Cucciarre IT Manager, Delaware County, N.Y.

A Dash of Cloud May Provide More Capabilities

As expected, Delaware County’s data center refresh included a cloud component. In addition to implementing cloud-based Microsoft 365, OneDrive and SharePoint for user productivity and data, along with hybrid deployments of Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory, the county took the opportunity to explore specific cloud-based security solutions that would complement its data center resources.

“We had on-premises Cisco Secure Email and Secure Web Appliance, and as they reached end of life, we looked to handle those capabilities in the cloud,” Cucciarre says.

Operating in a rural area, admins can find it difficult to hire IT personnel skilled in the county’s various platforms, and so far, the county board has been hesitant to fully embrace remote work, he says. The refresh gave Delaware County IT a chance to move certain tasks to the cloud.

“By moving our Secure Email and Secure Web Appliance to the cloud, we save money, and Cisco keeps the software up to date,” Cucciarre says.

At some point, the county may also move its Cisco Unified Communications System, which was upgraded in the data center refresh, to the cloud.

“We’ve got years of experience on our team, but we may not be able to replace them all, so we’re looking at running all of this with a limited staff,” Cucciarre says.

READ MORE: Here are five questions government agencies can ask about software-defined data centers.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure Can Modernize a Data Center

Indeed, as government data centers evolve, IT staffing often remains lean. In such cases, refreshes are an opportunity for greater simplification. In its 2023 report of state CIO’s top 10 strategic priorities, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers includes data center consolidation and optimization alongside modernization and cloud adoption.

Grant County, Ind., which employs about 400 workers, has an IT department of three. When it began its refresh in 2022, the county was looking to replace aging infrastructure with newer versions of what it already had. But in the process, its scope broadened to include simplified converged solutions.

“With a small crew, it can be hard to manage everything,” says Marcus Elliott, Grant County IT director. “So we went with basically a new hyperconverged infrastructure.”

Rather than upgrade its existing data center systems, Grant County installed new Scale Computing appliances, which combine virtualization, servers, storage, backup and disaster recovery. The change required migrating legacy virtual machines to the Scale Computing hypervisor, but Elliott has been impressed with how easy it’s been to manage virtual machines on the new system.

Grant County also opted to replace its existing network infrastructure with Fortinet converged switches and swapped out its existing firewall for FortiGate unified threat protection.

“We wanted to leverage the extra security features with the Fortinet gear,” Elliott says. “We still have some of the older switches, but we’ll replace those over the next few years.”

Elliott estimates the new data center infrastructure cost the county at least 20 percent less than what replacing its decade-old systems would have cost. “It’s not that there was anything wrong with what we had before,” he says. “It was time for a change. I didn’t want anything holding us back.”

For its part, Delaware County’s data center refresh has been a huge step in the right direction. The upgrades have made it easier for employees to log on remotely, seamlessly initiate conferencing and collaboration sessions, and securely access applications throughout the county. “The performance of our new infrastructure has made a lot of departments happier,” Cucciarre says.

Photography by Joe Buglewicz

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