Why the Georgia Cyber Center Is Special

From the initial vision to the public-private investment to the plans for the future, the Georgia Cyber Center (GCC) is unique, significant and even special. In this interview with Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes, we explore how the GCC happened, why the project became so successful and what’s planned for the future.

by / November 18, 2018
Georgia Cyber Center

As state government technology leaders gathered in San Diego, Calif., last month for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Annual Conference, there were many hot issues on the minds of public- and private-sector executives. From the upcoming elections, to federal priorities, to state budgets, to addressing the escalation in cybercrimes, the conference halls were buzzing with important conversations.

But one hot topic dominated conversations, and even stole part of the show, in my view. The compelling story of the new Georgia Cyber Center (GCC) repeatedly surfaced both on the agenda and also in different situations and circumstances.

The NASCIO Annual Conference breakout session on the Georgia Cyber Center was packed with every seat filled and two-deep people lining the walls. After that session, questions kept pouring in. How did Georgia do it? Where did the resources (money and people) come from? Can this approach really help with the global cybertalent shortage? Can other states follow the same path? If not, how can state and local governments partner on cybersecurity? 

Speaking further with Steve Nichols, Georgia’s chief technology officer (CTO), it became clear that their GCC was unlike anything else happening around the country. The new center was formed with a wide mix of public- and private-sector participants, a truly compelling vision and tremendous potential for future opportunities and growth.

I was delighted when Calvin Rhodes, the Georgia state government CIO, agreed to be interviewed “on the record” about more details behind the creation of the Georgia Cyber Center (GCC). That interview on the GCC can be found below.          

Background and Press Coverage on Georgia Cyber Center

But before I get to the interview, here is a brief glimpse at some of the press coverage received on the Georgia Cyber Center, along with links to the website background information.

About the Georgia Cyber Center: “The state of Georgia strengthened its position as a national leader in cybersecurity when it broke ground June 19, 2017, on the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta.

Costing $100 million and boasting 332,000 square feet in two adjacent buildings, the center is the single largest investment in a cybersecurity facility in the nation to date. It represents a unique public-private partnership that includes Augusta University, Augusta Technical College, the University System of Georgia’s research institutions, the city of Augusta, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Defense, and other state, federal, and private-sector partners working together to meet workforce demand. …”

(On the wider cyber problem) — WRDW: Georgia Loses Millions From Cyber Crimes

Augusta Chronicle: Defense Digital celebrates space at Georgia Cyber Center as Army Cyber talks about its Augusta future

Government Technology magazine: Georgia Cyber Center Finds Director in Former NSA Commander

Atlanta Business Chronicle: Capitol Vision: Latest toll lanes project to open; Georgia Cyber Center adds first private tenant

Augusta Chronicle: Cyber Center: What Will It Do For Augusta’s Economy?

NPR: Augusta Tech, Unisys Launch Cyber Security Apprenticeship Program

Exclusive Interview between Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes and Dan Lohrmann

Calvin C. Rhodes is the CIO of Georgia and executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority.

Rhodes came to state government in January 2011 from Paladin Investments, a private investment company he established and has served as managing partner since 2009. Prior to starting his own firm, he worked for Fulton Paper Company for 27 years, serving most recently as executive vice president. Previously he held various positions within the company, including vice president of operations and chief information officer/vice president for information technology. He began his career with the company in its procurement area.

Gov. Nathan Deal named Rhodes to lead the state’s public-private partnership IT transformation and consolidation effort. The initiative has strengthened security, modernized infrastructure and networks, improved reliability and increased transparency in the state’s IT enterprise. Building on its successes, the state is now evolving its service delivery model to enable state agencies to more easily benefit from changes in the IT marketplace. Rhodes and his team promote an enterprise approach to technology by establishing statewide policies, standards and guidelines based on industry best practices and federal requirements.

You can read more background on Rhodes at the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) website.

Dan Lohrmann (DL): Where did the vision come from for the new Georgia Cyber Center? How did that vision become reality so quickly?

Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes (CR): Georgia’s Cyber Center came about as a result of the confluence of an interesting set of circumstances. It all started with the U.S. Army’s decision to consolidate its Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Gordon. That decision created a need for a workforce with skills in cybersecurity. Those skills are also needed by employers across Georgia and that decision created an exciting opportunity for Augusta.

In addition to the U.S. Army’s cybersecurity resources at Fort Gordon, which include the Cyber School of Excellence, Augusta University is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, thanks to its outstanding School of Computer and Cyber Sciences and Cyber Institute. Both the Department of Energy and the National Security Agency have locations nearby. Augusta is also home to theClubhou.se, a nonprofit incubator/accelerator with a proven track record of helping technology startups succeed.

Two philanthropists and businessmen from Augusta, James M. Hull and William D. McKnight, see cyber as a growing issue, and they approached Gov. Nathan Deal with the idea that the state should invest in a cyber facility to support workforce development and encourage innovation and research.

Gov. Deal announced plans for the Georgia Cyber Center in January 2017. We broke ground for the first building, the Hull McKnight Building, in June 2017 and opened its doors in July 2018. The Cyber Center’s second structure, the Shaffer MacCartney Building, will be complete in December of this year.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and achievement, made possible only through strong partnerships and a collaborative, coordinated effort from academia, state and federal government, the military, law enforcement, and the private sector. Working together, we’ll be able to educate and train the next generation of cyber professionals and to develop innovative cybersecurity tools and solutions.

DL: What organizations were involved in the launch? Who is (and will be) using the center as you move forward to expand the scope of the effort?  

CR: As I mentioned, the Cyber Center is built on partnerships. We have strong support and participation from academia, state and federal government, the military, law enforcement, and the private sector.

Students from Augusta University and Augusta Technical College are already filling the labs and classrooms in the Cyber Center’s Hull McKnight Building, eager to pursue their dreams and career goals. They can choose from certificate programs as well as undergraduate- and graduate-level programs in cybersecurity and cyber sciences. Augusta University’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences is actually housed in the Cyber Center. Students will gain the skills and experience that will make them valuable to employers seeking bright, well-educated individuals prepared to take on the ever-changing world of cybersecurity. Through both onsite and virtual course offerings, the center will also be able to train the industry's current workforce and develop talent to meet future workforce needs. In addition, the Cyber Center’s Workforce Academy offers training for information security professionals in state and local government.

DL: How do you see local governments in Georgia, nonprofits or others in the private sector utilizing the Georgia Cyber Center?

CR: The Cyber Center addresses the skills gap with innovative programs and amenities that promote learning and innovation across all sectors. Here are a few examples:

The Cyber Center is supporting cybersecurity companies through its incubator/accelerator program. The program is managed through a strategic partnership with theClubhou.se, an Augusta-based nonprofit organization dedicated to growing a culture of innovation and collaboration. The Clubhou.se has served more than 25,000 people in the Augusta area through its events and programs, and it’s grown more than 50 companies.

The Georgia Cyber Range offers a safe computing environment for practicing incident response and other activities. The cyber range and its tools are available to students, industry, and government professionals.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crime Unit is housed at the Cyber Center, and local law enforcement professionals can take advantage of the GBI’s expertise in digital forensics.                                                                                                                                                   

The Cyber Center features demonstration space to highlight cyber-research activities underway across Georgia’s university system, including basic and applied research at Augusta University.

Build-to-suit Class A space is available for lease to industry-related companies. Companies within the Cyber Center can benefit from the facility’s resources and the convenience of co-location with state, federal, and industry-related partners. We’re excited that Parsons Corp., a leader in engineering, construction, technical and professional services, is joining us as a partner and tenant.

The Cyber Center features a 340-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and excellent acoustics, making it ideal for multimedia presentations. The auditorium is available for STEM-related events in line with the center's mission. Space adjacent to the auditorium is suitable for exhibits and receptions. The center's multistory garage provides ample parking.

DL: Can other states or other units of federal and state government get involved and use the center? If so, how?

CR: We look forward to finding ways to work with other state and federal government entities. The Georgia Cyber Range presents an excellent opportunity to do that. The Cyber Range is a heterogeneous computing environment used to practice incident response, conduct penetration testing, fuzz binaries across multiple processor architectures and more. It provides tools that help strengthen the stability, security, and performance of cyber infrastructures and IT systems. It is available to students, industry, and government professionals in education and training, product development, offensive activity and competition, detection and defensive competition, response and recovery, and evaluation and benchmarking.

DL: Since cybersecurity is such an important priority right now, how will this center help solve some of the pressing problems that Georgia, other states and our nation are facing regarding cyberattacks? What new capabilities does the center offer that are cutting edge?

CR: The Georgia Cyber Center is uniquely positioned to address one of the biggest challenges in cybersecurity: workforce development.

Cyber Ventures published a report noting that by 2021 there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide, up from 1 million openings in 2016. The U.S. alone is on pace to hit a half-million or more unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021.

The Cyber Center makes available a variety of certificate programs as well as undergraduate- and graduate-level programs in cybersecurity and cyber sciences through Augusta University and Augusta Technical College. Onsite and virtual course offerings are also available to professionals currently in the industry workforce and to those aiming to develop cybersecurity skills. Information security professionals in state and local government can take advantage of training through the Cyber Center’s Workforce Academy.

DL: What's next? Where do you see the Georgia Cyber Center going over the next few years?

CR: As we envisioned the Cyber Center, we agreed that we wanted it to be different from any other similar facility in the nation. We didn’t want to build just a cyberfacility — we want to build a cyberecosystem.

A few years ago, I was part of a delegation that traveled to Israel, a main hub for technology in the Middle East, particularly in cybersecurity. In fact, several of Georgia’s Fortune 100 companies have opened offices there. We were all intrigued by the cyberecosystem they’ve created, and I was a member of a subsequent delegation from Georgia that studied it further. Israel’s military cyberunit has led to the growth of numerous cybercompanies and recently located to a university, where they have established a center of excellence. The combination of academic and military efforts encourages collaboration to further cyberinnovation and workforce development.

We believe we are assembling the right partners and supporters across every sector to create an effective cyberecosystem here in Georgia.

DL: Is there anything else you would like to say about the GCC?

CR: As you might guess, the Cyber Center has generated considerable interest from other states. I’m often asked about the success factors for an effort like Georgia’s. I think it starts with a catalyst — for us, that was the U.S. Army’s decision to locate Cyber Command at Fort Gordon and the economic development opportunity that decision presents. You need a champion, and we were fortunate that Gov. Deal envisioned, promoted, and funded the Cyber Center. He also provided a clear path, giving us the flexibility to streamline procurement and contracting processes and find the right design and construction partners. We made collaboration a top priority as we worked to build strong relationships across government, academic, military and private sectors. Together, we are embracing a common goal that also meets partners’ individual needs and interests. Finally, as with any ambitious initiative, success requires commitment to see it through to completion.

Dan Lohrmann: Thank you, Calvin, for this interview. I want congratulate Gov. Deal, his leadership team, and your wider Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) team working on this effort, for starting this Center that has already changed the conversation regarding cybertraining, cyberdefense and resilience for the USA. It will be exciting to watch as the next chapters unfold at the Georgia Cyber Center.

Gov. Deal at Georgia Cyber Center groundbreaking