How local governments can use data centers to better protect critical data
By Karen Romano
With budgets constrained, government officials are continually on the lookout for innovative and cost-effective ways to protect critical data while maintaining the required level of service to citizens. In addition to the pressure on current and future budget resources, government leaders must also deal with mitigating a wide range of risks – from disaster recovery to computer infrastructure scalability.
But what is the best course of action to overcome these challenges? These issues have often led to consideration of two primary alternatives: data center consolidation and outsourcing.
Consolidate, Outsource or Both?
For some local governments, consolidating data center operations is the answer. This strategy involves substantially reducing the number of operational data centers. These data centers can range from storage closets to dedicated on-site facilities within various governmental agencies and departments. A consolidation initiative would combine operations into a fewer number of facilities.
Consolidation projects usually start by adopting a “zero-growth” strategy for data center space. Agencies must meet current and future demand for services without expanding their data center resources. The next step is actually reducing the number of operational data centers.
The objective of these two steps in the consolidation process is to leverage potential cost savings. In addition, consolidation can improve other aspects of the operation, such as security and management.
Although consolidating data center operations can be a positive move, many local governments have decided to embrace data center co-location, which is shifting government computing resources to third-party data center. Government can outsource data center space in addition to consolidating many on-premises operations, or transition entirely to a data center co-location model.
Although a data consolidation initiative can reduce costs and improve efficiencies, a number of risks still exist for on-site data center operations including:
- Budget Resources – Governments can only invest in data center projects to the extent their capital budgets will support them. The smaller the budget, the fewer the number of projects will be funded. Lack of an adequate budget affects the ability to expand data center operations when needed, deploy the latest facility technologies, staff the best qualified IT experts, and more.
- Disaster Recovery Capabilities – Every on-premise data center must protect sensitive information and maintain critical services at all times. While natural disasters and power outages present an obvious danger to data availability and security, municipal data centers face a variety of “what-if” threats – including some mundane ones – that staff sometimes overlook. For example, what if air conditioning breaks down in a satellite office or school and the information technology (IT) equipment overheats? Or, what if, a custodian at a similar facility accidently unplugs the server to use the vacuum? Ensuring availability becomes increasingly difficult given the sheer number of potential threats.
- Physical Security – A high level of physical security for IT equipment includes sophisticated access controls and around-the-clock monitoring systems. Government facilities are often publicly accessible, and therefore may lack the proper physical security controls for IT infrastructure. Multiple layers of security are costly to implement and maintain. Without these measures, governments could be at a greater risk of experiencing a physical security breach.
- Power Infrastructure – Installing redundant power systems is expensive – but needed to ensure IT equipment is operable during a downtime in electrical power. To be able to respond to a system power failure, governments need costly, redundant UPS, battery banks and generators in place at their data centers.
How Data Center Co-location Can Mitigate These Risks
When it comes to maintaining data centers, a local government’s objectives are to minimize risk, capture cost savings, simplify IT complexity, and ensure the security of public information. In many situations, a data center co-location strategy provides everything an organization needs to meet these objectives.
Data center co-location can put the right infrastructure in place to provide continuous service levels, even during a disaster. Dealing with a company whose business is data centers typically provides strong physical security systems, audited processes, environmental controls and energy reduction measures. Data center colocation with a third party offers a “pay as you grow” business model, so your operation can easily and cost-efficiently scale up or down, addressing future requirements.
The data center strategy that city and county government leaders choose to follow depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, is whether they have the budget available to build, expand or maintain an on-site operation. If a government does not have the needed funds to mitigate the significant number of risks facing an in-house data center operation, it should explore an outsourcing strategy.
The question government leaders need to ask themselves is whether they really want to own data center infrastructure and incur the capital costs that go along with that decision. Often the answer to that question is no – local governments are increasingly opting to leverage a service provider that can spread the cost of operating an enterprise data center to multiple customers. The end result is often fewer risks, lower capital costs, access to advanced infrastructure capabilities and an improved ability to focus on serving their citizens.
Karen Romano is Vice President, Government and Education at FairPoint Communications, a leading provider of advanced communications technology in northern New England and 14 other states. Karen has more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. She has a deep understanding of the technology requirements of municipal, state, and federal government organizations, as well as K-12 and higher education