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Washington State Law Creates a Pathway to the Cloud

Newly signed legislation will give Washington state agencies the choice to move to the cloud or continue utilizing the state’s data center. The lawmaker behind the bill says the shift could save the state millions.

Digital image of laptops surrounded by clouds on a blue background.
Almost 10 years after constructing a $255 million state data center in Olympia, Wash., in 2011, newly signed legislation will allow agencies to switch to the cloud as early as July.

According to House Bill 1274, one of the reasons for the switch is a result of the state’s current IT infrastructure having insufficient capacity to handle increased demand due to the pandemic. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. David Hackney, D-11, said the legislation would set up a framework for the state’s current information technology infrastructure to move to the cloud.

“The data center currently uses legacy servers,” Hackney said. “If they break down, have to be repaired, or need to be replaced, it can be very expensive.”

Another problem these servers present is a lack of scalability, limiting opportunities to expand.

“If we wanted to expand right now, we’d need more servers,” Hackney said. “By switching to the cloud, it would not only provide more opportunities to expand, but it would also be more secure and cost-efficient.”

In fact, it could potentially save the state $150 million over five years, according to Hackney. The catch, however, is that such a move would require shutting down the data center and solely utilizing the cloud to achieve this.

“The concern in shutting down the data center is that it would lead to job loss,” Hackney said.

However, the bill stipulates that it would create a new cloud transition task force to oversee the migration process and provide job training for legacy data center workers rather than outsourcing to an outside company. As for maintaining the cloud-based system, a third party will oversee and manage it.

“Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) will likely pick the provider,” Hackney said. “The idea is that WaTech will be in charge of this process.”

“WaTech did identify this as a key recommendation in our cloud assessment report, which we are working to implement,” a WaTech spokesperson said. “The state Legislature is still in session, and there may be additional changes before the session adjourns.”

Derek Puckett, WaTech’s legislative affairs director, expanded on the issue, saying, “the cloud assessment report has identified key recommendations such as implementing a cloud center of excellence and working with cloud data brokers.”

However, Puckett said, identifying what this process will look like needs to happen first. State agencies will decide whether to switch to the cloud or continue storing data in the state data center.

“The switch is not going to happen overnight,” Puckett said. “Not all agencies and systems are going to be cloud-ready.”

However, he said, it gives state agencies the opportunity to do so if it’s right for them.

The bill was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month and will take effect July 25.
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.