Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

A closer look at Pennsylvania's cloud infrastructure plan

Pennsylvania’s newly awarded cloud-based IT infrastructure contract with Unisys Corp. builds upon the commonwealth’s long-time focus on virtualization and interest in establishing an on-demand computing model.

The state announced the estimated $681 million pact, which could span up to 10 years, on July14. Under the agreement, Unisys will consolidate and transform seven state data centers into a resource dubbed the Pennsylvania Compute Services (PACS) hybrid cloud.

The data center consolidation phase will be completed in 30 months or less, according to Unisys. The Data PowerHouse contract, a managed services contract for the state’s mainframe environment, will also be consolidated under the new contract. Unisys also holds the Data PowerHouse contract, which the state originally launched in 1999.

The consolidation-to-the-cloud project builds on the state’s history in computing. Tony Encinias, Pennsylvania’s chief information officer, said Pennsylvania began consolidating data centers in the late 1990s and started adopting server virtualization in 2009.

Encinias called virtualization “a huge stepping stone” toward the current cloud effort and noted that the state’s data centers are 85 to 90 percent virtualized at this point, which will ease the task of migrating to the new cloud environment. The state also operates hundreds of virtual machines. The state’s Enterprise Data Center, among the facilities to be consolidated, has 900 to 1,000 virtual machines alone, Encinias said.

The on-demand model, meanwhile, has a bit of history of its own. Encinias took advantage of the approach while serving as executive officer of the Defense Enterprise Computing Center in Mechanicsburg, Pa. The model worked well during the early 2000s in the mainframe environment, said Encinias, noting that he has been thinking about how to apply the same tactic in Pennsylvania for the past five or six years.

The adoption of cloud-based, on-demand computing services provides a firmer economic footing for the state, Encinias said. The alternative: the capital expense of upgrading physical data center gear every few years.

“You can’t sustain, every four or five years, the incremental amount of money we would need to do the infrastructure refreshment of data centers,” he said.

On-demand computing lets organizations buy computing resources at the point of time at which they need them. Traditionally, IT departments purchased servers, storage and other IT components with an eye toward their capacity needs three to five years down the road.

Encinias said the result would be that organizations would try to grow into IT capacity purchased in advance. But such over provisioning, he said, wastes money in creating idle resources waiting to be used.

The state agencies’ typical server utilization rates had been in the 10 to 15 percent range, with some rates as low as 5 percent, he said.

Pennsylvania is counting on the cloud contract to reduce costs through higher usage of just those resources needed to get the job done.  For example, the contract’s pay-for-use aspect addresses agencies’ operational seasonality, which also affects usage rates. Agencies that have periodic spurts of activity will be able to request additional resources to meet the immediate demand and then scale back when those resources are no longer required.

Encinias pointed to the example of Pennsylvania’s Department of Revenue, which experiences a January through April peak period, and the Department of State, which oversees state elections.

“With this model, they buy the infrastructure they need on a day-to-day basis and ramp up during peak periods and ramp back down for the rest of the year,” Encinias said. “We are not paying for stuff we are not using.”

The PACS hybrid cloud will use a IT Service Management (ITSM) framework, “based on ITIL-aligned processes for service request, change, incident, problem, service level, asset and configuration management,” said Reed Laughlin, vice president of the Unisys  Pennsylvania team,. 

Customers within state government will be able to order a range of offerings from a web-based service catalog. At  present, more than 500 items are listed in the catalog, Encinias said, which he described as a dynamic document.

Initially, Unisys’ lineup of on-demand IT infrastructure services will include IBM and Unisys mainframe compute services, IBM AIX compute services, x86-based Windows, Unix and Linux compute services, storage services and disaster recovery services, Laughlin said.

“These services will be requested through a secure portal that provides the configuration options while maintaining the proper governances,” said Michael Root, executive program lead in the Governor’s Office of Administration. “We have all of the advantages of the cloud with quick delivery and flexible configuration while maintaining the governance and security demanded of a public entity like the commonwealth.”

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