Mass. city breaks new ground as service provider

Melrose first city in state to offer its private cloud to other municipalities

The City of Melrose, Mass., is taking advantage of a move toward regionalization by offering other cities and towns in the state data center and IT services via a private cloud.

The city has built a secure, multi-tenant cloud that can host multiple communities, said Jorge Pazos, CIO of Melrose, a small city seven miles north of Boston with a population of 28,150 people.

The private cloud is based on NetApp FlexPod, an integrated data center infrastructure that includes Cisco Unified Computing System blade servers and Cisco Nexus switches, NetApp’s unified storage system and VMware virtualization technology.

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Melrose’s journey to the cloud actually started six years ago. Many cities and towns in the state have two technology departments: one for general government, fire and police departments; the other dedicated to school systems. Each department has its own technology staff, infrastructure and network.

Melrose officials decided to consolidate the two technology departments, Pazos said. The first step involved the physical conversion of the two networks and then consolidating the two data centers into one.

Obtaining the funding and building the network to connect all municipal buildings took time. Around late 2009, Pazos’ team started looking for technology to consolidate the data centers and chose the FlexPod technology.

At the same time, the financial crisis hit state and local government budgets. The economic downturn spurred a trend toward “regionalization of services between multiple communities,” Pazos said. “The rest of the country probably calls that county government,” he said. “Massachusetts tends to be parochial with emphasis on local control.” As a result, every city has its own school, public works, police and fire departments.

With regionalization in vogue, Pazos’ team thought: “What if we can host data center services for other municipalities?” The work of selling that idea to other cities and towns began in mid-2010. Not every city and town has the same set of technology needs, Pazos said. Some have very robust, well funded and mature IT departments. Cities with that type of set-up are looking for offsite disaster recovery and business continuity rather than hosted services. The cities and towns that do not have an IT infrastructure or lack the personnel to manage are looking for hosted data center services.

Melrose officials have been in negotiations with about 20 communities and expect about four to sign on for some type of data center services in the immediate future, Pazos said.

“Within the next month or so we will be hosting these services in that private cloud in a multi-tenant fashion in the city of Melrose,” Pazos said. “This is definitely the first time this has been arranged in the state of Massachusetts,” and possibly in all of New England, he said.

The major obstacles that need to be addressed are not technology-related. Instead they are centered on conceptual, political or organizational issues, he said. That is why Pazos’ team doesn’t use the word “cloud” when discussing the services they can provide. “Cloud is a market buzz word that means nothing to a lot of people,” he said. So the emphasis is on explaining how the services will work and the ultimate benefits.

Cloud computing provides on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or interaction from the service provider.

The main technology obstacle might be ensuring that there is enough bandwidth to meet the needs of the users, Pazos said.

Meanwhile, NetApp continues to enhance its offerings, extending capabilities beyond storage for a complete cloud infrastructure service. The company recently announced new technologies within the NetApp OnCommand management software that lets organizations control, automate and analyze the shared storage infrastructure.

The company also enhanced its Alliance Technology Partner Program with the inclusion of cloud-management vendors that will integrate their technologies with NetApp OnCommand to provide end-to-end management of the full cloud infrastructure. Some of those partners include BMC, CA Technologies, Fujitsu, Microsoft, newScale, Tivoli and VMware.

In related news, Lockheed Martin unveiled BlackCloud, a secure turnkey private cloud solution for government agencies. BlackCloud integrates Lockheed Martin’s architecture with solutions from Cyber Security Alliance partners Cisco, NetApp and VMware to offer secure multi-tenancy in the data center.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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