San Francisco bay from top of the Berkeley hills (Vinay A Bavdekar/Shutterstock.com)

Infrastructure overhaul helped Berkeley meet pandemic challenges

Before the pandemic hit last year, there were no city employees in Berkeley, Calif., who teleworked. Almost overnight, about 700 needed to find ways to connect from home to city systems.

The key to enabling that was an infrastructure modernization project that had recently wrapped up, said Berkeley’s IT Director Savita Chaudhary. Berkeley replaced an eight-year-old system with Nutanix’s hyperconverged platform.

“We needed to have a strong infrastructure in place because our infrastructure was pretty old,” Chaudhary said. The new system is scalable and easy to stand up, so “our application deployment time was reduced significantly,” she said.

Using it, the city quickly rolled out Citrix applications for remote work and others for telehealth. The city, rather than the county, is responsible for overseeing residents’ health needs, so its Health, Housing and Community Services Department needed to deploy telehealth and contact tracing applications, too.

A traditional three-tier legacy architecture features compute, storage and network hardware as well as a software stack, making it difficult to troubleshoot. Nutanix “collapses all of that into a single platform,” said Tapan Mehta, the company’s global head of industry strategy and solutions. “Now you have a single source [where you can] diagnose issues you run into.”

The infrastructure revamp was part of a five-year digital transformation plan that Berkeley launched in November 2016. The IT Digital Strategic Plan & Roadmap listed about 100 initiatives to modernize the city’s IT infrastructure, including a 20-year-old IBM AS/400 that serves as the enterprise resource planning system and aids in asset, fleet and performance management. Now, its many modules are becoming separate applications, Chaudhary said.

Besides replacing the infrastructure, the city also developed a GIS master plan and is working on a cyber resilience roadmap. “Berkeley was pretty behind in technology, and we had to do an extensive investment into our technology systems to get us to where we are today,” Chaudhary said.

In addition to enabling remote work, the city needed a disaster recovery solution. It chose Nutanix Xi Leap, a cloud-based DR-as-a-service solution that runs through its Prism solution, a dashboard from which the city manages its IT. Now, the city’s two data centers back each other up. Berkeley also uses offsite DR.

“The additional flexibility of adding new functions, new capabilities such as DR or telehealth or remote work, all that was made feasible by the infrastructure,” Mehta said.

The city has seen many other benefits from the modernization. For instance, it has halved its data center footprint and gained significant energy savings. “Berkeley is big on environmental sustainability, so that was one of our big goals,” Chaudhary said.

Plus, with the new “seamless and high-performing infrastructure,” the city can deploy applications much faster, she said. “It really saves time on ongoing maintenance as well.”

Berkeley is not unique in its IT modernization needs, Mehta said. He points to four key nationwide state and local initiatives echoed by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ “The State CIO Operating Model: Leveraging The Power of the Four Forces” report last May. They are digital management, or the transition of services online; cybersecurity, particularly ransomware defenses; cloud-based deployment models because of their flexibility; and an acceleration toward all of these because of the pandemic.

“We already know that the pandemic has [put] a tremendous amount of strain across state and local government from a budget standpoint,” Mehta said. “That’s why the role that IT has to play is going to be even more pivotal in driving efficiency, in driving cost optimization.”

Berkeley also feels that pressure. Chaudhary said she has an eye toward adding virtual desktop infrastructure into the city’s new IT mix, but those plans are on hold because of budgetary constraints.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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