Data Center Embraces Voice over IP

A spring storm forced the state of Connecticut to undergo a $15 million move to a new data center with Voice over IP, improved network performance, and better mainframe and server maintenance.

A squall in March 2000 forced Connecticut's chief information officer to find a new home for his 10TB data center and information technology department, which has more than 400 employees with another 150 workers temporarily assigned there. For more than 20 years, the data center had resided in a structure built in 1904, but the rainstorm resulted in basement flooding and structural damage.

"We had to go out in a hurry," says Rock Regan, the chief information officer for the state of Connecticut in Hartford. After a three-month search for a building, his information technology department moved everything it could over a five-month period. They also tried to fortify the old building's structural integrity through floor loading.

About 20 months after the rainstorm, after a $15 million project, Regan and his staff cut over to a new data center with Voice over IP, improved network performance, and better mainframe and server maintenance.

"Generally, we're there," Regan says of the 99.999 percent uptime he tries to maintain for 65 executive branch state agencies on a fee-for-service basis. "It's gotten better since the move," he says of network reliability. "We found a lot of single points of failure," in the previous data center. He credits the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 with "changing the way people look at reliability," particularly for criminal justice applications.

Network uptime partly depends on the criticality of the application—with round the clock onsite coverage available for a higher fee—and everything from tax-revenue data to motor-vehicle information and criminal justice data flows through the data center. The information technology department building has as many as 1,200 network nodes with redundant Internet connectivity.

The data center has enabled local, state and county law-enforcement agencies to better share data across 16 different criminal-justice jurisdictions, Regan explains. With more funding available for such initiatives after Sept. 11 (because a critical problem with homeland security is the lack of sharing of information between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies), an offender-based tracking system rolled out in September.

Voice Over IP
Although Voice over IP was a "little bit raw" in 2000, Regan decided to implement it by working closely with Cisco Systems Inc. "Cisco has stepped up to the plate" in its technical support and product development, he says. Not averse to risk, Regan tried to outsource the state's information technology infrastructure to Electronic Data Systems Corp. in 1999, but the state and EDS officials couldn't agree on terms and conditions as a result of political fallout over job outsourcing, which killed the deal.

Voice over IP enabled Regan to move employees gradually from the old building to the new one over several months. For example, people who called Regan's office number wouldn't know if he was in the old building or the new one because his calls were forwarded through the network. "My secretary and I were the last to move. People would always ask me where I was," he says. Regan and his employees gained OC/3 connectivity to the desktop at the new building.

"We designed everything we needed" in the new building, Regan says. "The planning process is critical" both with customers and information technology department staff.

"Planning, planning, planning is the key to success," explains Regan. "You have to live by the plan," even when bureaucratic obstacles come in the way, which is a particular problem for government agencies. A Connecticut native, Regan has worked for the state government since 1995. "There are always bureaucratic obstacles," but determined leadership can overcome them, he says.

Determining the design and requirements for the new building took until January 2001, with a lot of help provided by IBM Global. Construction of the facility was completed by February, with the move finished by July 2001. "We had to essentially outfit the whole building," including the closets, switches and phone lines, he says. Regan estimates that the cost of implementing a Voice over IP network was "slightly less than installing a PBX."

Regan contends that Connecticut took physical security seriously long before Sept. 11, but the installation of "a lot more" security cameras at his new building have made them more secure now, he says.

The data center before was a "(Point of Presence) mail forwarder," Regan says, but he's trying to transform it into an enterprise e-mail service that will service 24,000 accounts by December 2003. He was serving 8,000 e-mail accounts through the data center this past August.

Details: State of Connecticut

Project: State of Connecticut data center move

Team Leader: Rock Regan, chief information officer

Organization: State of Connecticut information technology department, with more than 400 employees and 150 additional staffers temporarily assigned to work there.

Location: Hartford, Conn.

Web Site: www.doit.state.ct.us

Goal: On short notice, to find a better data center to house 10TB of data to replace a storm-damaged facility.

Scope: From March 2000 to November 2001

Solution: Moving a mile and a half away to a 240,000 square foot building with a 20,000 square foot data center through a $15 million project that's provided better service to 65 state agencies by reducing network complexity and improving network availability.

Equipment/Platform: The data center uses IBM and Unisys mainframes and Dell and Sun midrange servers.

Business Mission: The data center stores data for 65 executive branch state agencies, including child welfare, criminal justice, motor vehicle and tax data.

Lessons Learned: The planning process is crucial. "You really gotta shake the tree," to find out the requirements of the 65 agency customers who use the data center, Regan says. He attributes his project's success to "planning, planning, planning."

VARs/Integrators: Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Global

Milestones: Implemented a Voice over IP network in 2000, which made a five-month gradual move for 550 employees more seamless because of the ability to forward calls through the network. Enterprise e-mail network should grow from 8,000 accounts in August to 24,000 by December 2003.

Other Approaches Considered: Because a move to outsource Connecticut's information technology to integrator EDS stalled in 1999 due to political opposition from civil servants, Regan couldn't give much consideration to outsourcing the data center.

Future Challenges: Regan and his staff have seen the need for criminal justice network uptime and the demand for law enforcement applications shared across state, local and county law enforcement increase dramatically since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. They've had to give those agencies varying service-level agreements to meet the demand and their abilities to pay for better service.

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