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Kansas Delays Data Center Migration to Hybrid Cloud

Legacy network bottlenecks during the testing phase of the data and application migration to a Unisys-owned hybrid cloud center, in Eagan, Minn., have pushed back state plans to go live until early November.

by / August 8, 2019

Kansas has had to delay by almost three months the migration of data and applications to a brand-new, vendor-housed data center after hitting an unexpected snag.

Pennsylvania-based Unisys was awarded a contract with the state in 2017 to stand up a hybrid cloud facility in Eagan, Minn. Kansas began the migration process in January by using pilot groups in case the current legacy network failed to successfully transfer information to the new Unisys hardware.

Chief Information Technology Officer Lee Allen said he was about to green light the full migration when problems began to arise.

“The legacy network that’s in place was bottlenecking the flow of data in certain points. The ultimate cause is outdated hardware, what they call an ‘oversubscription at our access layer,’” Allen told Government Technology. “The devices where the users directly connect to the network in our various facilities — it's a specific model that we’ve used extensively and is at capacity — creates this bottleneck.”

In response, the Office of Information Technology Services (OITS), brought in Cisco’s ConvergeOne, which deployed code and configuration fixes across the network.

“[ConvergeOne] really pointed to some physical hardware issues that we’re going to have to try and figure out how to address,” Allen said. “We’re doing some testing right now with specific agencies to determine if the improvements we’ve made in the performance will be enough to go ahead and continue with the migrations while we address the larger hardware issues that we need to take care of.”

The original timeline had a completion date of July 1, but the bottlenecks in the network delayed the process by about 70 to 80 days, according to Allen. Unisys, which is expecting to generate revenue from the contract with the state, has had to push back its plans. Migration costs are funded through rates charged to agencies for IT services and the costs will extend beyond the current budget into Fiscal Year 2020.

“It gets [the data and applications] into an environment that is elastic and allows for growth, flexibility and for us to react better to situations that change here,” Allen said. “To do it today, I’ve got to add physical hardware to something to expand capacity, but up there in this hybrid cloud environment it can expand organically as needed. It provides us with an efficient and stable ability to provide a quality of service to our agencies and the citizens, then, in turn.”

A hybrid cloud model will provide more financial stability because its price tag is predictable and based off of consumption, rather than IT hardware refreshes or replacements, which can carry hefty costs for the state, he said.

It will also better arm the state against cyberthreats, Allen said. The legacy systems currently housed in Topeka, Kan., are more vulnerable and require a significant amount of staff time to ensure they maintain a level of security to thwart potential cyberattacks.

“We’ve outsourced our mainframe, outsourced our data center and I want us to outsource the ownership and management of our network to get away from these physical things that we focus so much time on,” Allen said. “They take us away from focusing on what the citizens need, what the agencies need to provide to the citizens and how we in IT can support them and help them with their outcomes.”

Modernization efforts in Kansas have been underway since 2015, when Allen was still CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services. The state successfully consolidated 25 email domains across 13 executive branch departments to Office 365 and outsourced its mainframe, despite underlying network issues that halted the data center migration.

“With the success we had with the Office 365 move and the mainframe move, I think people are surprised at the issues we have now with the data center move,” Allen explained. “We were fortunate for how those went because those were every bit as complicated in certain ways as this is. We’re just now finally running into issues that we can’t just easily overcome with the data center move.”

A new timeline estimates that data and application migration will be finished by Nov. 1, he said. Once complete, the legacy systems will be relegated as surplus property. The data center floorspace, currently occupying the eighth and ninth floors of a 100-year-old building in downtown Topeka, will be turned over to the Department of Facilities Management.

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Patrick Groves Staff Writer

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.

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