Kansas Embraces the Hybrid Model in Multifaceted Cloud Pact

The state of Kansas is undertaking a partial IT consolidation, according to Chief information Technology Officer Lee Allen. A key part of the plan is a hybrid cloud solution from Unisys for agencies and partners.

Kansas, which moved off mainframe nearly two years ago, has activated a more recent vendor pact around hybrid cloud that, like an ongoing IT consolidation, aims at increasing flexibility, reliability and saving taxpayer dollars.

After an RFP in 2017, the state hired Pennsylvania-based Unisys late last year, powering up the 62-month, roughly $40 million contract on July 1, the start of its new fiscal year. The intervening period, Chief Information Technology Officer Lee Allen said, enabled a legislative process around funding certain aspects, but now Unisys representatives are “on the ground” and talking with agency officials about migration scenarios.

It’s far from the only development in Kansas, where incoming Gov. Laura Kelly will flip the administration from Republican to Democrat in 2019. In December 2016, the state opted to retire its mainframe, migrating to a solution from Illinois-based Ensono. On Oct. 7, Allen said the state initiated the first piece of a hybrid consolidation signed off by current Gov. Jeff Colyer, that will have all agency CIOs report directly to Allen. The CITO characterized it as a hybrid consolidation model, somewhat similar to the consolidation undertaken in Nebraska.

“We’re going to be consolidating IT around the core, kind of infrastructure services that are common across all agencies and then leaving federated the application development and business-specific services that are embedded in the agencies,” Allen said, indicating that agency CIOs will otherwise remain embedded at their agencies. During the next several months, he said the state will plan the organization of staff around these core services, with an eye for deploying organizational changes during the first half of 2019, subject to level-setting with the new administration. New Chief Information Security Officer Rod Blunt, who became interim CISO in June and CISO in September according to LinkedIn, will play an active role in working with Unisys, Allen said.

In a recent news release, the company said it will provide a hybrid solution to help the state modernize executive branch IT infrastructure, and will be responsible for its compute and data storage environment as well as operational support and services including data center and network security, compliance and disaster recovery. And the CITO and the company pointed out the agreement also makes cloud services available cooperatively to all state agencies as well as cities,  counties, universities and other schools.

Unisys will physically preserve any data that needs to remain physical, while also offering Kansas a hosted private cloud for server and storage environments; and managed third-party cloud for any other environments. The state will retain oversight over application development.

“It provides us, first of all, the flexibility to ramp up our technical environment as needed, as well as to manage that technical environment toward a more cost-effective model, where we don’t have the ‘always on’ model, where every server and every device is always running at capacity or at available capacity,” Allen said, adding that while the executive branch already uses cloud in a number of areas, a pent-up demand exists, particularly around private cloud. The arrangement will also offer data center co-location; and new levels of disaster recovery and redundancy, with a primary backup at Unisys’ facility in Eagan, Minn., and a secondary site in Virginia.

In a statement, Michael Morrison, vice president and general manager for Unisys in the U.S. and Canada, said the agreement with Kansas is designed to generate efficiency for the state while reducing operating risk and providing staffers and residents a modern digital experience.
“The contract squarely positions the state of Kansas as a best practices leader, using digital government services as a way to serve citizens more effectively,” Morrison said.

Their work together, the CITO said, represents “a brand-new operating model” and will allow the state to shutter its primary data center in Topeka, the capital, and several smaller server rooms across the capitol campus. The precise financial impact is to be determined, but Allen said Kansas’s shift to a private, hybrid cloud solution is one other states may also consider.

“I think this type of engagement is going to be what you’re going to see some flavor of, more and more often. We’re getting to leverage the best practices and security processes of a world-class service provider, so it inherently improves our security posture,” Allen said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Techwire.net, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.
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