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California State IT vision: freedom of choice

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When he was appointed director of the State of California’s Office of Technology Services (OTech) in April 2012, Ron Hughes’ professional life made a full circle. He had gone from a state job into the private sector and then back into a state job. This time around, however, it’s more fun as he gets to call the shots. “I’m now back at an office job,” Hughes says, “[but] it’s not quite as boring when you’re the one making the decisions.”

This is an opportune time for somebody who wants to call the shots to join OTech at the top. The state’s entire IT infrastructure is being consolidated, reduced, rebuilt and reimagined, and a lot of those formative decisions – decisions that will affect the way state agencies consume IT services for many years to come – have to be made. And Hughes has one or two ideas in mind.

OTech’s future

Hughes sees the OTech of the future as an agency that offers customers a range of deployment options for all the applications that modern enterprises have available to them. These options would include hosting equipment at one or both of OTech’s data centers, or deploying in the [private or public] cloud.
“Let the CIOs determine what their requirements are and what best meets those,” he says. “Every application and every customer has different privacy, security and cost requirements that will help determine where they can most cost-effectively run their applications.”

The private-cloud option would be hosted at OTech’s data centers but the office is looking at setting up new private and public cloud service offerings that could be provided by a commercial service provider. State agencies cannot outsource any actual data center functions to commercial providers. A state law prohibits outsourcing of anything that can be done by state employees, so “I have no intention of outsourcing any of the existing data center functions to commercial service providers,” Hughes says.

Choice is really the key to his vision for the office. “I look at OTech as a partner to our customers and not a control agency,” he says. “Customers should come to OTech because they want to, not because they have to. I am in favor of cooperation, not coercion.” For that to happen, OTech has to offer the most efficient and cost-effective option.

A lean data center infrastructure is key to that efficiency. Eventually, OTech’s new director wants to have the agency operate two geographically diverse data centers, linked directly by dark fiber. “We’re well on our way to achieving that,” he says. The office has already consolidated into two data centers: One it uses exclusively in Rancho Cordova (just outside of Sacramento) and a shared one in Vacaville, which is about 45 miles southwest of Rancho Cordova. It is sharing the latter facility with the State Compensation Insurance Fund, which uses about 8,000 sq ft of space.

Faster procurement would go far

But an efficient infrastructure is not the only thing needed to respond quickly to customer needs. The state’s current policies and processes for procurement are simply too slow for a truly agile IT services provider. “The state does a lot of things really well but doing procurements quickly and innovatively are not two of our strong points,” Hughes says. “It’s a very bureaucratic process, and it’s simply … not set up to do procurement quickly.” The current procurement process can take 6 to 12 months, while Hughes wants OTech to be able to respond to a customer request within 30 or 60 days.

He would also like to see utility-computing and Software-as-a-Service models to be used by OTech. This would “allow us to scale up or down much more quickly”.

Looking for young blood

Another part of Hughes’ vision is a younger OTech. The state’s overall workforce is aging and for the tech-services office, he says, the problem is especially acute. “If you look at the age of the state’s workforce and compare them to the age of the IT workforce, the IT workforce is significantly older,” he says. Average age of state IT workers overall is 45-50, while most of OTech’s IT workers are over 50 years old.

Hughes wants to attract younger IT workers to the agency, where he says they will have much better opportunities to advance their careers than the private sector has to offer.

And, he says, the job just might be as or more interesting than a job a young techie may find at a startup, since OTech is beginning to adapt to the world of mobile-device-driven IT services and social media. The chance to advance to a senior position may also come much faster for a newcomer to OTech than it will in the private sector. A lot of the existing workforce will soon retire and free up the higher-up positions it is currently in. “If you stick around for five to ten years, you may be in charge,” Hughes says.

Consolidation of everything

For now, however, it is all-hands-on-deck to finish the three ongoing major consolidation projects: data center consolidation, email consolidation and network consolidation.Overall goals are to reduce cost through energy-use and data center space reduction, a lot of which has already been achieved. The agency’s total data center square footage, for example, has been reduced by 50% as of June 2012, going from about 360,000 sq ft to about 180,000 sq ft.

While nearly all network circuits have been in the migration process since July 2011, the project will still take some time to complete – until 2013, Hughes says. “It’s such a huge network, that it just takes time.”

Data center consolidation is still ongoing but most public-facing or mission-critical systems have been moved to the Rancho Cordova data center.

The Gold Camp facility has been under renovation since late 2008 (see box).

The consolidation project’s goals were to reduce overall state data center energy consumption by 20% by July 2011 and by 30% by July 2012. OTech achieved a 37% reduction by July 2011, Hughes says. And more energy savings are expected once the Gold Camp data center renovation is complete.

OTech is doing email consolidation by deploying the function in the Cloud. “The primary application that we’re running in the Cloud right now we call California Email Services,” Hughes says.

About 10,000 mailboxes have been migrated to the Cloud so far, with another 90,000 left to go. These cloud email services are hosted by Microsoft, at Microsoft data centers.

Consolidation first, bikes second

Once the three big ones are complete, more resources will be freed up for other projects. Hughes wants to get OTech’s private cloud up and running within the next 6 to 12 months.

The end of consolidation may also give OTech’s director more time to ride motorcycles, a serious passion of his. He owns six bikes and has raced at Bonnevile, an annual event on a stretch of flat land in a Utah desert where drivers of hot rods, roadsters, belly tankers, lakesters, motorcycles, streamliners and diesel trucks come to try and often establish new world records for land speed.

Hughes raced at Bonnevile in 2009 and has plans to do it again when he retires. For now, he only rides a bike to work on Fridays.

Ron Hughes is features as a keynote speaker at the DatacenterDynamics conference in San Francisco on 17 July. Sign up on the San Francisco conference page.

This article first appeared in FOCUS magazine. To register for FOCUS digital editions, click here.

Related images

  • Ron Hughes, director, Office of Technology Services for the State of California, in front of the stateÔÇÖs main data center near Sacramento on his Triumph.

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