Government Bodies Embrace Cloud Computing

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Sep 30, 2010


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Ed Bugnion, CTO for the Server Access and Virtualization Business Unit at Cisco, certainly got it right when he predicted that the adoption of cloud computing within the enterprise could well be led by the government and not the corporate sector.

Is government driving the cloud computing adoption bus? Limited budgets and expanding desktop computing costs made virtualization a popular choice among government entities, then the cloud beckoned.

"Complex, process-driven environments like government have been used to inflexible IT infrastructures," he said. "The cloud's flexibility is so appealing that it will drive the creation of a private government cloud."

That statement was made a year ago at EMC World. Today, many government entities are leading the way in cloud adoption.

Take the case of Middlesex County in New Jersey. CIO Khalid Anjum and a staff of 14 support 2,000 desktops and 100 servers that are spread across 14 offices connected on a private network. With a limited budget, spiraling desktop costs and a big bill facing the organization to upgrade existing physical servers, Anjum looked for a better solution.

"It was going to be too expensive to upgrade and manage more or better servers, not to mention soaring demands for power and cooling," said Anjum.

He began to solve his dilemma via virtualization, which then morphed into more of a private cloud vision. Initially, 70 physical servers were consolidated onto 7 VMware ESX hosts. (These were later upgraded to VMware vSphere and the Cisco Nexus 1000v virtual switch.) VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) was added to automate virtual DR processes -- PlateSpin was used for the physical servers.

The adoption of VMware Lifecycle Manager made it possible to transition IT from a provider of components to a provider of services. That opened the door to the phased virtualization of 1,050 desktops using VMware View. Each of these elements has been collectively combined into the county's private cloud that encompasses server VMs and virtual desktops.

"PCs die and their data dies with them," said Anjum. "We transitioned user data from the desktop to the cloud within our virtual data center."

That permits him to secure all virtual assets effectively, scale the infrastructure up and down rapidly, and manage and backup easily. Anjum admits, though, that user acceptance was a challenge. He stressed the need to give virtual desktops a look, feel and functionality very similar to the physical versions.

"You have to do it right the first time and align with the right partners to succeed in the cloud," said Anjum.

Cloudy in San Francisco

Perhaps the weather in San Francisco had something to do with the decision: The city and county of San Francisco are firmly headed into the cloud. Jonathan Walton, deputy CIO for both the City and the County talks about drivers, such as a lengthy procurement process for servers, less than one-sixth of his servers being SAN connected, 40 data centers or server rooms spread across the metropolitan area, aging infrastructure, expensive collocation fees, and significant expansion demands.

But the biggest driver was necessity. Facing a hefty shortfall in revenues, $9.5 million got lopped off Walton's budget. With much less money and a smaller staff, he had to come up with a way of maintaining and expanding services. This largely Wintel shop adopted a strategy of virtualizing 335 Windows Servers onto 25 vSphere-based Cisco UCS blades as well as the Cisco Nexus 1000v.

"VMware was the best fit for us in terms of security and DR [disaster recovery]," said Walton.

A two-year deadline has been set to arrive at a virtual data center. All servers were consolidated onto EMC storage. vSphere was used for thin provisioning. Additional VMware elements supported the move to a private cloud. Walton commented on the tight integration between VMware, Cisco and EMC gear. Further, complimentary skill sets assist the IT group in coping with its staffing restrictions.

"We are going to become a private cloud for multiple agencies," he said. "We will eventually be able to give them both private and public cloud services, which will be managed by us."

Customers will be grouped so that each group can have specific security processes tailored to needs. Walton was initially worried about investing in the Cisco UCS blade system, but he has been happy with the results.

"Sometimes you have to take a risk to get a reward," he said. "We visited the Cisco labs to try it out, though, before making the final decision. "Our virtual infrastructure has created about a 300 percent or 400 percent improvement in service."

When it came to the cloud, Walton was initially dubious. He had experienced software as a service (SaaS). It had generated plenty of teething issues, but once fully implemented it ran fine. However, the vendor was based in French Canada, had some English language challenges and the service ultimately was out of government control. That led him down the private cloud path.

"We won't get any support from the police on this approach unless we provide them with a purely private cloud," said Walton.

Other areas of the city or county, though, may be willing to use some areas of public cloud-based services. Cloud servers will be rolled out gradually as more budget becomes available. He takes a pragmatic approach to the tighter purse strings in the city.

"There is always a tendency to cut the IT budget, so you have to show the value of the investment in terms of improved city services and increasing revenues," said Walton.

Are the Clouds Bigger in Texas?

The County of Denton in Texas is another government entity moving enthusiastically toward the private cloud. Like many areas, the county faced a crunch on several fronts-space, power, cooling, network capacity and money.

Kevin Carr, County of Denton director of IT began virtualizing his 150 physical servers to reduce costs and squeeze more into less space. He initially adopted Microsoft Hyper-V but switched to VMware due to some management difficulties and a lack of support from certain software vendors he required. He also added a Cisco Nexus 100ov as the foundation for the cloud infrastructure.

Result: an abundance of server and network capacity that makes it very easy to fulfill almost any request for virtual machines. Those requests are filled same day.

As for funding for the exercise, Carr faced harsh realities -- No money at all was available. He solved this challenge creatively. With a server change-out looking, he reallocated money earmarked for new physical servers for the move to a virtual environment.

"We took all the money we were going to spend for new servers and used it to virtualize what we had, so we didn't need to ask for a new budget," said Carr.

More recently, he has begun a desktop virtualization pilot.

"There are a lot of outside state agencies that want access to our network," said Carr. "We don't manage their clients, so we are looking at desktop virtualization as a way to take care of that."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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