Private Cloud 'Vending Machine' Eases IT Service Delivery for Wyoming

The CIO of the state of Wyoming shares how a new approach to IT service delivery via the private cloud has helped save time and better allocate resources. Find out how the state settled on a vendor and launched the system, and what it learned.

August 22, 2012

6 Min Read
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The state of Wyoming started with a vision one year ago to build a private cloud that worked like a vending machine--spinning up whatever resources customers wanted when they wanted them, and billing them each month based on usage. In principle, the IT service delivery concept was straightforward. In practice? Not so much.

"Our vision of this private cloud compelled us to reconsider how we were deploying not only technology, but human IT resources throughout the state, "says Flint Waters, CIO for the state of Wyoming. "Resources and data centers were distributed throughout the state--but to make the vending machine cloud vision happen, we needed to consolidate in many cases."

Wyoming's IT strategy was to build out the data center as not only a technology-on-demand delivery service, but also a virtual resource for network redundancy, disaster recovery and failover.

"We wanted to reinvent how we delivered IT services throughout the state so that we could deliver these services over a distributed network--without someone in a distant location having to call up IT for that service," says Waters.

State IT staff members spent six months vetting vendors and IT service delivery products, only to experience frustration at the end of the process. "I think we interviewed over 12 different vendors," recalls Waters. "We were about to pick the 'best of the worst' when we located a company at a developers' conference we attended that could do what we wanted."

Waters and his staff worked with the vendor, CloudBolt Software, to develop a private cloud in which the software in the data center sits on top of a virtual environment. The architecture allows any IT resource demand placed on the data center to be achieved through the punch of a button.

"We recognized that our vision was not entirely a new concept," says Waters. "Amazon, Google and other Internet services use a similar approach. What we wanted to achieve was an automatic allocation of server, network and storage resources at the push of a button."

Like many data centers, Wyoming's infrastructure was a heterogeneous mix of technologies and vendors. Server resources originated primarily from Dell and HP. HP virtual hosting was the primary virtualization engine. In the area of storage, Wyoming used IBM SONAS technology for slower and least-cost hard disk storage (HDD), and solid state disk (SSD) for rapid access to spin up virtual machine quickly and on demand. "We used several tiers of service in our cloud architecture that included both active-active and active-passive connections," says Waters. "The cloud was distributed over two physical data centers that were networked with each other for purposes of disaster recovery and failover. As part of the failover strategy, we employ VMware--and SONAS storage is run in real time."

Next: How a "Cloud Vending Machine" Has Eased IT Services DeliveryThe cloud vending machine approach to IT services delivery offers efficiencies and cost savings that stretch tax dollars and return immediate benefits to state residents, Waters explains.

"This is part of a vision to deliver greater value to our citizens that the governor has actively backed and that we are now delivering," he says. "Our user-base vision is that the cloud-based services that we are now delivering to state agencies will over time be extended to county and even city agencies. To do this, we will ultimately realign our infrastructure into a four-cloud, networked configuration run from two data centers in Cheyenne. The beauty of the design is that it actually shrinks the footprints of the data centers. One complete cloud configuration occupies only eight racks in a data center. This allows us to work with our existing data centers, and to avoid the effort and expense of constructing new data centers. It is part of the governor's vision to improve the lives of our citizens."

Wyoming's cloud vending machine also tackles the issue of how to charge back for the cloud servers that data centers vend. "Like a vending machine, the cloud is entirely self-service," explains Waters. "So a user goes to a portal and tells the portal what he needs. The portal configures the necessary server, storage and network resources, and then comes back to the user and says, 'This is what you've asked for.' The user approves the configuration, and the configuration is deployed. Chargebacks are based on these requests, and at the end of each month the user receives a bill."

Waters estimates that the bill end users receive is "about half" of what they could expect to pay from a commercial service--which also should make Wyoming tax payers happy. "At the end of each month, along with their billing, users receive a list of the resources that are allocated to them," he says. "It is our way of telling them, 'This is what you've got,' so they can decide what they want to keep and what they want to de-allocate." Wyoming IT also makes courtesy calls to end users to alert them to resources that they ordered that aren't being used. The process reduces resource waste and saves money.

"The most popular use today for the vending machine cloud is for IT application development, testing and staging," says Waters. "Legislation this past spring created an Enterprise Technology Services agency, into which we will be consolidating distributed IT departments for greater efficiency."

Now that the cloud vending machine has been deployed, Waters has had time to reflect on the project. "The surprises in the project that we did not anticipate were mostly small," he says. "One thing that we had not anticipated was the need to change our network infrastructure. Our private cloud uses network-attached SAN, and we had to reconfigure for that, along with adding fast IOPS switches and SCSI fiber."

The self-service portal was also a challenge. "We had done a good job learning about the ergonomics that users wanted in the development of the portal, but when we launched an IT consolidation initiative that accompanied our deployment of the cloud, we found we had to do a lot of marketing to 'sell' the idea of a consolidated enterprise IT agency because of the sense of ownership individual departments had for their 'own' IT," says Waters.

Going forward, the plan is to give users more control over their resources in the cloud. "We plan to privatize the cloud experience in our multitenant environment to where each tenant can exercise ownership over its area by controlling its own virtual firewall," says Waters.

What words of wisdom does Waters have for others considering private cloud implementations?

"Don't give up when the chips are down," he says. "Sometimes you have to go out on your own to find the right solution. Then once you find it, you have to get your staff to believe that they can do a private cloud project. For us, this was a yearlong journey--but we never gave up."

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