Data Center News

Wyoming to close data centers in cloud shift

First state to deploy Google apps makes next move

The state of Wyoming is planning to discontinue most of its data center operations and move its physical equipment to commercial colocation facilities.

It will continue to manage its own physical servers at these colocation centers, but this outsourcing step is part of a broader plan to move the state's computing resources to cloud services.

State governments have been outsourcing various parts of their infrastructures for years, but how they outsource is changing. What's now driving government IT decision-making in Wyoming and other states is a desire to move resources to dynamic cloud-based services, both public and private.

Why pay attention to Wyoming? It's a small state, in terms of population, with less than 600,000 residents, and it's more known for farming than for tech. But sometimes big things happen in little places.

In 2011, Wyoming became the first state to implement Google Apps for Government statewide. In doing so, it consolidated 13 separate email systems. It also brought in Google docs and collaboration tools.

Gmail use is now mandatory, but state agencies can decide for themselves whether to use Microsoft Office or Google productivity apps. Since the Google implementation, the state only buys about 25% of the Microsoft licenses it once did, said Wyoming CIO Flint Waters.

Waters sees the data center move as part of an evolutionary process that leads in one direction: "I really need to get out of the business of buying computers, and start buying computing," he said.

Wyoming now runs two data centers. It plans to close one in the next six months and shift the bulk of its remaining IT infrastructure operations to a colocation facility by 2016. It will continue to operate a small data center to support its networking equipment and a mainframe.

State governments are clearly moving to cloud-based services, but there's no single approach. For example, IBM just announced plans to build a private cloud for the California state government. The operation will have the potential to deliver about 80% of the state's IT services. But it will run in state-owned data centers, and IBM is required to train state IT workers so they can take over.

In contrast, Pennsylvania recently announced a plan to turn over its data center operations to Unisys, which will work to shift operations to a cloud-based delivery system.

Wyoming's plan represents yet another option. Waters cites multiple reasons for this move.

For one thing, there's an ever-increasing amount of data to manage. The state is deploying, via a private-public partnership, a 100-gigabit backbone to reach all of its school districts, for which it will be collecting and managing more and more data. Water says other services that could impose major data demands include the development of fracking operations for energy production. State rules require the production of data-intensive 3D maps as part of environmental assessments for hydraulic fracturing sites.

The growth of data collection in all areas of government is difficult to forecast, and the 18-month state budget cycle makes it even more challenging to plan for this growth, Waters said.

"What we're trying to accomplish is not to have a scenario where the tech you have in place dictates how innovative you can be," he said.

There's also an economic development angle at work here. The state, which has low energy costs and is making increasing use of wind power, is working to attract data center developers. One of the companies building data centers in Wyoming is Microsoft, which recently announced that it is expanding its data center operations in the state, bringing its total investment to $500 million.

With state officials working to encourage companies from other parts of the country to use data centers in Wyoming, Waters noted that it might look somewhat paradoxical if the state government continued to run its own computing operations. "To say that it's great for everyone else to store their data in Wyoming, but we want to build our own [data centers], seems a bit counterintuitive," he said.

The state's two data centers have about 150 racks overall. A planned renovation of one of the buildings housing a data center is one of the reasons the state is making its move now.

While the IT equipment will be moved to colocation facilities, another effort is underway to shift other services to the cloud. The state is investigating possible approaches. One possible technology is Microsoft's StorSimple cloud storage.

StorSimple, which Microsoft acquired in 2012, makes an appliance that replicates data to a cloud environment and dynamically calculates storage, keeping the files most accessed in the fastest memory or in a cloud environment, said Waters. Today, agencies try to calculate how much Tier 1 and Tier 2 storage they may need while setting their budgets, he said.

Shawn McCarthy, an analyst at IDC, said it may cost states more to totally outsource than to keep IT in-house, and it's difficult to move everything because so many state systems are customized.

Nonetheless, he noted, there is a definite trend among states toward shared services, consolidation and moving some operations to the cloud.

Read more about cloud computing in Computerworld's Cloud Computing Topic Center.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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