As state officials set Wyoming's IT strategy for the coming years, the state is poised to become the first in the nation to have fully adopted Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) by 2015 -- which is just a part of Wyoming’s plan to become a state that promotes education, innovation and economic growth, says state CIO Flint Waters.

“It represents us giving the opportunity to move into the next generation,” he said, “and gives granular control down to the school district so they’ll be able to engage with bring-your-own-device or whatever they want to bring in. It positions us well so our infrastructure is up-to-date, ahead-of-date adequately."

IPv6 is the replacement for IPv4, which allows for 4.3 billion IP addresses -- that will eventually run out. It’s been known for years that a transition to a new protocol would someday be necessary, and according to World IPv6 Launch, IPv6 adoption is now doubling each year.

"We recognize that the IPv4 pool has lost its way," Waters said. "It’s gone, and if we’re going to roll out this connectivity and build this internal economy for the state, we want to make sure we build it on the appropriate infrastructure so it will scale as needed.”

The fact that Wyoming is planning for this change is representative of the state's broader goal of harnessing progressive IT and transforming the state.

Calling All Vendors

About 18 months ago, the state began planning how it would build out fiber to reach more homes, government offices and schools, said Waters, pictured at left.

“I needed innovative design, long-term sustainability, and the ability to handle the education environment plus all the state offices,” he said.

After failing to find a vendor that would have met all of the state’s needs, the state changed its strategy -- instead, Waters said, it would use all the vendors.

In September 2012, the state decided it would manage its own system, negotiating contracts with nearly every independent service provider in the state, Waters said.

Before adopting this new plan, however, the state considered copying the University of Wyoming’s model, which included a $38 million data center and IT campus. But controlling a central single-point-of-failure didn’t meet their needs either. “I would really rather invest in cloud design and broadband capacity that is diverse,” Waters said.

The new model for infrastructure development allows the state to accept bids from any vendor it chooses for a given part of the buildout, saving the state money, Waters said. It’s also good for vendors, he said, because it broadens their potential customer base -- instead of just having access to home Internet users as customers, they also can tap schools and government offices. This will allow service providers to more easily justify fiber buildouts and meet return on investment goals, leading to more Internet connectivity for the entire state.

“We ended up with a three ring design, and we will lease layer two from our providers,” Waters said. “We’re not putting glass in the ground.”

Instead, he said, the state will foster an economic model that encourages competition -- and will eventually lead to higher capacity for citizens, schools and government. “The governor," he said, "has committed to the notion that this technology facilitates enhancements in quality of life."

Increasing Internet Capacity to Schools

In addition to the economic model the state’s plan creates, Waters said, there’s also an opportunity to offer more and better services to individuals and organizations.

“We want to allow data centers within the state of Wyoming to connect directly to this network and provide services to our backbone without having to consume our Internet connectivity,” he said, adding that this new buildout will allow that to happen, and data centers can house services like database or cloud offerings.

Schools play a central role in the state’s overall strategy, Waters said, and this IT buildout is a big part of that plan. The first phase of the state’s IT buildout will begin in July, which he said will increase Internet capacity to schools by about 700 percent on a per capita basis. In December, he added, the state will negotiate for funding for the second phase of the buildout, which will begin July 2014. By 2015, the infrastructure construction will be complete, with full data center connectivity and network access to the schools that choose to adopt IPv6.

“One of the governor’s key initiatives was providing an educational environment where the brilliance of the Wyoming student doesn’t have to leave Wyoming to continue to grow,” Waters said. “So often in the past, our kids have gone to the university, they get their degree, but they can’t operate as a software engineer effectively from Buffalo, Wyo., because the infrastructure wasn’t in place to accommodate it. We are a very geographically disparate location in the state and have to find ways to shorten our roads. We have to be able to do that to be competitive.”

Education, economy and technology are all intimately connected, he said, and the state likes to model its ideals after those of Google.

“We very much adopt that moon-shot thinking that Google advocates,” Waters said. “If you don’t ask the impossible of yourself, you’ll never make it.”

And the state already has a good start on its efforts to be an over-achiever, he said, pointing to a complete IT consolidation finished in 18 months, and a private cloud rolled out in 12 months.

Better connectivity, better education and an improved economy all go hand in hand, Waters said, noting that the state is trying to open up and enable digital mentoring programs where high school students can work with grad students at the university to invent the next big technology.

“Whatever solutions they develop in those data centers will be able to connect directly to our backbone to help foster the growth and the technical expertise to help foster the leaps in science and technology," he said. "It really is a cross-disciplinary effort to create the perfect eco-system.”

Main photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com