Private Cloud Computing for IT Services to government agencies

By Jon Walton, CIO, County of San Mateo

Jon Walton, CIO, County of San Mateo

The Information Services Department (ISD) of the County of San Mateo is responsible for supporting a very large and varied organization – over 20 departments and approximately 6,000 employees — that provides a host of critical services such as public safety and health care to almost three-quarters of a million residents. We are also unique in that, unlike our neighboring counties, there is no one large city that dominates the populace or the politics.

"Our goal has been to do our job so well and so cost effectively that people are excited about embracing new technologies"

To reach our long-term service goals, we must understand the larger trends in technology and apply those within the context and constraints of our mission as a government agency. Governments are often seen as being technology laggards, but our goal is to learn from the success of Silicon Valley and help transform government IT with similar leadership. ISD’s role is to balance the need to continually serve our customers (the 20+ departments of the County government who, in turn, serve our residents) on a daily basis with the need to embrace technological trends that will, over time, make our services more efficient and connect government better with the residents it serves.

Like many organizations (and certainly most public sector entities), we have many legacy systems and facilities, including those in our data center which were not originally designed for the scalability we currently need. Simultaneously we were running out of physical space while the needs of our customers were growing, including through more cloud-based applications and a great emphasis on “Open Data” to enable all of our departments to engage residents in newer and more exciting ways. Unlike a private sector entity which may the budget to do more frequent technology refreshes, we needed technology solutions that could solve our current challenges and also enable easy scalability for future growth. Our legacy IT environment consisted of a broad mix of infrastructure solutions all designed for specific projects, and as such there was no way to easily scale them up or out to support the new projects and solutions we wanted to implement. Our traditional three-tier infrastructure required constant tweaking to keep it operational and therefore was creating a road block to rolling out new projects and applications. Our customers were losing faith in our ability to deliver reliable IT solutions. We needed to move the County’s IT vision forward and make us more efficient and focused with our resources.

In order to more efficiently cut down on provisioning time and storage management overhead, we migrated our virtual infrastructure from a three-tiered traditional architecture to a hyper-converged solution in a P2V (physical to virtual) process. This approach truly transformed our virtualization delivery model. Before, too much time was spent managing and troubleshooting the storage and compute infrastructure, but with the hyper-converged architecture we were able to focus our resources on improving the environment instead of just trying to keep the lights on. Post-implementation, our engineers have been able to focus on more strategic and customer-facing projects.

Taking this approach also lowered overall capex and opex costs. Labor costs were reduced by reducing the complexity associated with maintaining our legacy infrastructure. We were able to reduce the amount of time our staff was spending on the old infrastructure—keeping it configured correctly, optimized, and running around the clock. This in turn helped us utilize our resources more efficiently and allowed us to upgrade other parts of the datacenter infrastructure that we had been ignoring.
We have gained significant benefits from this project, both in terms of financial efficiency as well as in terms of customer satisfaction. The ISD department has been able to manage a greater project load with the same staff. For fiscal year post implementation, 91 percent of major projects were completed on-time, on-budget, and rated good or better in terms of customer satisfaction. Although not all of this increase can be attributed solely to this project, overall customer satisfaction of ISD services increased by 10 percent versus the prior fiscal year.

Before the hyper-converged infrastructure, our team spent a majority of their time reacting to storage and server issues that were negatively impacting our virtualization environment. This in turn resulted in unhappy customers who had no faith in our ability to deliver a reliable product. Consequently, we were stuck at around a 60 percent virtualization footprint. Since the hyper-converged infrastructure implementation, our team almost never deals reactively with issues, partially because of the system’s ability to diagnose problems before they occur and partially because we simply don’t have storage and server problems anymore. This year we will easily push past an 80 percent virtualized footprint. A secondary benefit to this implementation was that it got both our IT staff as well as customers more excited about embracing new technologies in the county and being innovative in all of our efforts.

The migration has allowed us to easily scale infrastructure, reduce deployment time from days to hours, simplify storage management, and establish a strong working partnership with our technology partners. Our goal has been to do our job so well and so cost effectively that people are excited about embracing new technologies here in San Mateo County. We don’t have excuses anymore about why things are so expensive or why they take so long to implement. This technology-centric culture is self-reinforcing – across the organization we continually see new possibilities for how technology will allow the county to better engage with our residents, provide more and better information, and deliver our core services more effectively and efficiently.

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