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Alaska Monitors 'Lights-Out' Data Center via the Cloud

CIO Jim Bates talks about how Alaska uses its private state-owned cloud, challenges and cloud computing's future.

Alaska native Jim Bates became the state’s director of Enterprise Technology Services in 2013. He came to the job with 30 years of experience in technology, business transformation and project management. We asked Bates about Alaska’s plans for cloud computing at the NASCIO Midyear Conference in April.

1. How are you using the cloud now?

We’ve created a private state-owned cloud to host a lot of state applications. It’s basically a lights-out data center. We don’t need to have people there. We can monitor it remotely from mobile devices.

We’ve also had agencies move to commercial cloud platforms. Recently our Department of Labor moved one of its mainframe applications to a cloud provider. That’s caused us to look at our entire mainframe environment. Right now we’re looking at an RFP to find ways to do more with less — can we do it better by moving to a cloud service? We also just went through a financial analysis of whether we should move email to Microsoft Office 365. A decision will come soon on that.

2. Are there challenges to adopting cloud services?

Part of our problem in Alaska has been connectivity. We have fiber connecting us to Washington and Oregon. But it’s been kind of restrictive to put cloud services so far away. Obviously we’ve met the challenge in several instances and we’re doing it. There are some things on the horizon that could have us hooked to a bigger fiber ring in the next five to six years, and I think cloud in the future will be a lot more viable.

3. What’s driving cloud adoption in your state?

We’re faced with economic challenges. Falling oil revenue really hurt us this year. That will have us looking at buy vs. build and what services should be commoditized and outsourced. No one likes to hear that because it impacts state jobs. But our governor is leading a challenge to shrink the size of government so it’s sustainable on our oil revenues, and cloud services probably will be a big part of that.

4. What does the future of cloud computing look like?

Our private cloud is only about 3 years old. We made quite an investment in that, so we’ll probably be leveraging that infrastructure for quite some time. I see it being viable for at least another five years. At the same time, we have to think about where we’ll be in 10 years. Will we still be in that business? The idea is to start looking at data and apps in the cloud and figure out how we’ll get there from here.