Massachusetts moves from data center ‘hodgepodge’ to cloud-driven model
To modernize and standardize its infrastructure, the commonwealth is moving its data and applications from more than 20 data centers to the cloud.
When Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker created the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS) in 2017, the commonwealth was responsible for running more than 20 data centers, including a primary location built in 1994 and one built in the western part of the state in 2010.
But now, Massachusetts stands on the cusp of winding up its move out of state-owned data centers and into other environments, including into hybrid cloud, on-premises and third-party hosting facilities, and infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.
Curtis Wood, the commonwealth’s chief information officer and a member of Baker’s cabinet, said the final data centers could be closed in as few as six months as it shifts its priorities.
“We just made the determination that we don't really need to be in state data centers any longer,” Wood said. “We struggle with the skill set and the ability to manage infrastructure in today's world, so it’s best to move forward with doing a combination of cloud, SaaS, and then looking at privately managed, privately owned colocation services.”
Before 2017, Massachusetts had a “hodgepodge” of state-owned data centers, Wood said, including several satellite centers that housed data for specific agencies like the Massachusetts State Police, and Departments of Correction and Health and Human Services.
Historically, IT infrastructure and strategy was organized on an agency-by-agency basis, leading to a “disparate array of technology services and solutions,” according to EOTSS’ Enterprise IT Strategic Plan for FY 23-25.
Since 2019, EOTSS has worked to modernize and centralize Massachusetts’ IT infrastructure under the One Network initiative. That plan was “aimed at folding all secretariats and agencies into a single core network operated by EOTSS” that would handle email, data center operations, network communications, business applications and internet service, according to EOTSS’ 2022 annual report.
At that time, Wood said the commonwealth had a “cloud first mentality” and was looking to use one provider. But since then, Massachusetts has opted for a multicloud approach driven by agencies’ migration readiness among other factors. EOTSS calls this more nuanced approach a “cloud smart mentality” where the secretariat prioritizes planning to develop workflows and helps agencies determine which solution is best.
One of the biggest challenges around migrating away from data centers has been ensuring compliance with privacy regulations, Wood said, especially when it comes to making sure personal data is properly managed and government operations are not disrupted. Some agencies may also not be as ready to transition to the cloud as others, he said, and it takes careful planning to ensure that staff are up to speed on how to migrate data and applications effectively.
EOTSS has also received significant financial backing from the state legislature for its migration initiative, Wood said, in the form of around $900 million over the past five years to help retire data centers and prepare for more modern infrastructure. A one-time capital investment in migration is not enough, he said. The migration and management of the cloud infrastructure will require sustained effort over multiple years.
“When you go to cloud, there's certainly a cost to do this annually,” Wood said, referring to ongoing operational costs. “And sometimes it's more expensive than agencies are used to paying. But a lot of times those agencies were used to not paying anything, they just buy it once and forget about it.”
As of March 2022, EOTSS had migrated almost 400 of the commonwealth’s business applications to the cloud under its One Network model, including its systems to track immunizations, disease surveillance and information on home and community services. That is all in a bid to ensure that residents can more easily access state services from the more than 100 agencies that offer them.
“[Agencies] have different rules, they have different personalities and different geography, they have different clientele,” Wood said. But since the pandemic, EOTSS has focused on making sure “that we're playing our part in providing continuity of government. And if you think about what continuity of government is, for me, for our team, it's really focused around access to state services.”