Articles

Nobles County, Minn., Considers Former Jail As New Data Center

The space has been “mothballed” since the jail was moved to Prairie Justice Center in 2002; the cell blocks are still in place, and various county agencies have used the space for storage.

by Julie Buntjer, The Daily Globe, Worthington, Minn. / February 2, 2017
Shutterstock.com/Dabarti CGI

(TNS) -- WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Board of Commissioners has yet to finalize the sale of more than $6.4 million in capital improvement project bonds and already has identified another project to possibly include in the bonding request.

During a work session earlier this week, Nobles County IT Director Angelo Torres and IT consultant Shawn Larsen of Morris Electronics Inc. presented commissioners with the concept of creating a governmental data center in the former county jail, located on the third floor of the Nobles County Government Center in downtown Worthington.

The space has been “mothballed” since the jail was moved to Prairie Justice Center in 2002, said Larsen. The cell blocks are still in place, and various county agencies have used the space for storage.

Larsen, whose work on the regional hub idea was funded through Nobles County’s Blandin Foundation grant, said what makes the space so appealing is its concrete block and steel construction.

“This particular project is very exciting,” he told commissioners. “The technology revolution in government has grown exponentially, and people are looking for some sort of resiliency. ...This is a data center on steroids — it’s very structurally sound.”

Larsen said the space could be transformed into a data hub used not only by Nobles County, but by other counties, cities and school districts across southwest Minnesota. He identified 10 counties, from the Minnesota-Iowa state line north to Yellow Medicine County, and from the South Dakota state line east to Redwood, Cottonwood and Jackson counties.

He and Torres have already completed site visits with nine entities.

“What we have tailored our discussion to is all roads do lead to clouds, but it doesn’t all have to go elsewhere — we could have a regional cloud,” Larsen said.

With announcements of data breaches by some significant companies in recent months, Larsen called this a private cloud concept — and thus far, people are interested. The questions are, how much will it cost them and when will it be ready.

“Part of what we see as attractive in the data center (being in the former jail) is we could have private data centers in individual cells,” Larsen said.

Entities already realize they have a need for either cloud storage or back-up storage of information, and housing it in one regional center as opposed to each entity creating their own hub is a win-win for all, he added.

“It’s a tremendous space,” Larsen told commissioners. “It offers everything anyone would seek out in a data center.”

There is work to do, however, to make it work as a data center. Larsen said there would need to be secured access such as having a card reader on the entry door, updating heating, ventilation and air conditioning and construction of ADA-compliant restrooms.

“It was our hope that we would be able to shoot for a live date of 2018,” Larsen said, noting that timeframe would give governmental bodies time to budget this year for access to the hub.

Not only could the data center store information, but it could lead to sharing of programs.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said every county has an AS400 — a program county assessors and auditors use for their tax system.

“All of the counties could use one AS400,” Johnson said. “When we look at all the different components in the county — many have the exact same needs in each county.”

Johnson said the center could encompass approximately half of the available space in the old jail. That would mean finding a new place for all of the documents and equipment currently stored there.

“We could build storage a lot cheaper than we can build a data center,” said Commissioner Gene Metz, who spoke favorably of the project.

“I’m a firm believer in if you build it, they will come,” he said.

Johnson estimated it could cost half a million dollars to get the former jail transformed into a regional data hub. Creation of the hub would include moving the IT department into the renovated space as well, which would then provide much-needed space for the county’s community services department.

“We don’t have to restructure a lot of the rooms,” noted Torres of the former jail. He suggested the county get an idea of the true cost for the project by the end of May. That way, other counties, cities and school districts interested in partnering can work it into their 2018 budgets.

Commissioners asked Johnson if it was possible to include the regional data hub in their capital improvement plan bonding. In January, they approved the sale of more than $6.4 million in bonds, but the sale won’t actually happen until early March.

“I don’t know if we can adjust (the bond amount) or not,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of projects we can manage a little tighter.”

©2017 The Daily Globe (Worthington, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.