Cloud : A Key Player in Welfare of Citizens through IT

Sally Ward, Director-Data Center Services, Texas Department of Information Resources
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Sally Ward, Director-Data Center Services, Texas Department of Information Resources

Everything is bigger in Texas is a phrase that gets used with much regularity when discussing the state. It is generally used as a humorous aside when discussing Texas, but the element of truth hangs high above its every use.

This is especially true in its public sector consisting of almost 200 state agencies, institutions of higher education as well as the 254 counties and other countless local, municipal organizations throughout the state. All of which strive to support the increasing demand of the almost 28 million Texas citizens (along with almost 250,000 moving here each year), making it the second most populous state in the country.

The need for information technology solutions is expansive and ever growing. The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) introduced private cloud computing in 2008 through its Data Center Services (DCS) program and explored cloud broker models as early as 2010 and was one of the first in the public sector to do so. This initial project eventually led to awarding 24 public cloud contracts between 2012 and 2014 while DIR implemented their own DCS cloud. With almost 75 percent of DCS server compute currently in the private cloud, DIR is now adding Hybrid Cloud Services to the DCS program’s offering.

  Our pursuit of an economically neutral cloud platform is where we believe the future is headed 

As IT platforms have begun moving away from previous strategies such as mainframe and server solutions operating within traditional brick and mortar data centers, DIR has consistently maintained a sense of progressivism to align the state of Texas with private sector technology capabilities.

Texas’ Hybrid Cloud offers DIR customers a platform that meets three points of convergence through agility, transparency and control of customer IT infrastructure and financial cost. Previously, for the most part, DIR customers had been limited to a fully managed private cloud solution to meet their needs. With the implementation of hybrid cloud, the private cloud solution is still available, but several public cloud alternatives provisioned through an online marketplace have been added to allow customers to better align their technology needs against available offerings. Texas customers will be able to choose either fully managed or semi-managed operational support for both public and private cloud platforms.

These public, hybrid, and private cloud options help ensure that agencies have the control to determine their need for base or add-on services, according to business, financial and/or regulatory requirements.

Initially the DCS program offers Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, integrated with the private cloud in the state’s two consolidated data centers. DIR aims to make it easier for state customers to use the marketplace to compare the various service offerings from DIR, whether private, hybrid, or public. The marketplace, which will be live beginning in the fall of 2016, will allow customers to price, purchase the right cloud services for their organizations, and leverage a self-service orchestration layer for automated provisioning and de-provisioning of services in all three delivery models.

The pursuit of cloud services was not due to any legislative mandate, but rather the desire to offer another modern alternative for public sector IT services that offered customers a cost savings or cost neutral platform.

Implementing the plan to pursue cloud services is not without its challenges, especially in a decentralized state like Texas. Older, legacy systems exist in customer agencies that rely on older operating systems may require application remediation and operating system upgrades in order to become “cloud ready.”

Within the state of Texas, there are sets of applications and data that exist that will still rely on the traditional data centers due to the sensitivity of the data, incompatibility of operating systems and more, but each agency will now be able to choose which operational model best fits their organizational needs.

Texas is a big state with its own internal challenges, including many varying network challenges requiring many different networking solutions. These Cloud options are an acknowledgement of the need to ensure that “one size fits one,” because each agency has unique needs and requirements.

As each agency has many differing factors, DIR must meet the economic, technological, and functional needs of its customers while maintaining flexibility of services available. How often does an agency need to refresh systems? Can cloud provisioning provide cost effective turn-up and tear down development and testing environments? What level of enterprise disaster recovery is needed? Texas agencies, as they do in other states, vary in size and scope from the small and nimble organizations to those with a large, more centralized framework.

For some agencies, the public cloud is responsive to the need for rapid provisioning, or possible cost savings; with automated failover for continuity purposes, while for others the existing private cloud Consolidated Data Centers are more appropriate based upon the need for custom configurations and operations support, enterprise backups and disaster recovery, & lower risk. Each is a manifestation of the singular focus to serve Texas state agencies, but without a doubt, Texas is headed towards increased cloud usage that is either public or private.

As there is little to no anticipated change in spending, our pursuit of an economically neutral cloud platform is where we believe the future is headed. The relationships DIR has with our customers are a byproduct of DIR’s thought leadership in these solutions. They exist to ensure we can deliver value and mitigate risks to the citizens of Texas while still maintaining relevancy in a constantly evolving field such as information technology.

Hybrid cloud options and DIR’s marketplace will continue to evolve and complement DIR’s other suite of services, such as cooperative contracts and communications services, all of which continue to meet the mission of Texas and its constant commitment to its 28 million (and growing) citizens.

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