Monday, August 19, 2013

VMware vCloud Hybrid Service Powers Journey to Zero-Cost Applications Support for City of Melrose

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on how one municipality has broadened its own IT infrastructure to become a managed-service provider for other cities and towns.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect.

Gardner
Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how a small city outside of Boston has embraced hybrid cloud computing to host not only its own applications, but also those of nearby communities. In doing so, the City of Melrose, Massachusetts, plans to reduce the cost of supporting its applications to perhaps zero -- and maybe even generate revenue -- as a specialized managed-services provider.

To learn more about this early adopter municipality approach to cloud computing, and how they transitioned from nearly 100 percent server virtualization to a novel cloud capability built on VMware vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS), please join me now in welcoming our guests. We're here with Jorge Pazos, the Chief Information Officer in the City of Melrose. Welcome, Jorge. [Disclosure: WMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Jorge Pazos: Thank you.

Gardner: We're also here with Colby Cousens, IT System Administrator in the City of Melrose. Welcome, Colby.

Colby Cousens: Thank you.

Gardner: Jorge, let me start with you. As you looked to extend the benefits of server virtualization, what were some of the top requirements as a CIO for moving to cloud and hybrid-cloud infrastructure?

Pazos: A lot of this is driven by both challenges that we face and opportunities that we see. Like you said, we're an IT department for a mid-size town in Massachusetts. We offer services to all of our internal departments and we're beginning to grow out into a managed-service provider. Part of what we're looking to do internally is grow that managed-service provider part of the business, but then also take care of a lot of the day-to-day stuff.

Pazos
If you think about building a data center, which is what we did about three or four years ago, it was a top-to-bottom upgrade of our data center. One of the things that you immediately start to think about is your disaster recovery (DR). When you're a small municipality with five square miles, where do you put a DR site that gives you diverse power providers, and geographical diversity?

It doesn't make sense to invest heavily in a DR site that’s somewhere within the same town. So we were really looking to cloud-service providers to provide that for us. That was one of the big drivers for us, and we really didn't feel comfortable growing the business too much without having at least that capability somewhere, as part of our service offering.

Gardner: When you were looking for a DR capability that opened up your eyes to what hybrid cloud was capable of. Was that the beginning of seeing more than the virtualization benefits of being able to replicate workloads and have elasticity and look to optimization benefits beyond your on-premises server?

DR site

Pazos: We really wanted to have a fully functional DR site, and we looked at a lot of the cloud service providers. This isn’t a point-in-time perspective. This is something that we've been doing over the last three or four years.

Three or four years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of cloud-service providers that we felt could do what we were looking to do. So when we had this opportunity to participate in the beta for the vCHS, we were really excited. There was quite a bit of promise in it for us in terms of things that we felt were important, like interoperability, security,  performance, and things like that.

And after the launch actually one of the things that we are pretty excited about that we didn't see in the past was cost predictability, which we don't really see a whole lot from a lot of the other service providers.

Gardner: I'm sure if you are going to embrace a hybrid-cloud model, and test and evaluate a product like be vCHS, you might recognize that if you do this first, you've learned the lessons and acquired skills. How did that idea come about to take this into this extension of what other municipalities would be seeking?

Pazos: It’s not that big of a stretch, when you think about it. What we're doing is providing services to other cities and towns. That is what we do on a day-to-day basis in one municipality. The way that municipalities are run, especially from an IT perspective, there isn’t a great deal of diversity. We could pretty much run IT for almost any city or town, because the apps are very similar and the business processes are all very similar.

It’s not that big of a stretch to get to that point where you say, "I can do this for another city or town." That was actually the thought process several years ago, as we started to do our own internal consolidation. The idea was that if we do it for ourselves, why can’t we do it for others. It’s not that much of a leap to get there.

Cousens
Cousens: We can get some practice consolidating city and school networks and data centers and realize it's the same thing. We could do it with other the municipalities as well.

Gardner: Colby, that was going to be my question. What requirements did you have in terms of what was needed in order to make this possible if you were going to integrate and consolidate with the cloud infrastructure approach for different divisions within your town? Sure, you can extend that to other municipalities, but what was important for you to be able to do that in terms of the solutions available?

Cousens: Compatibility was the biggest issue for me. I didn’t want to run into any roadblocks with software or hardware that wouldn't work with each other, so we would have had to drop the project just because two things wouldn't connect.

Gardner: Let’s get a sense of what we're dealing with here in terms of your scale and your size. Tell me about Melrose, the applications, the number of users, and your infrastructure. What are we talking about in terms of IT organization?

Modest deployment

Pazos: It is a fairly modest deployment by service provider standards, but I think by municipal standards, we're decent size. Currently, we're at about 70 virtual machines (VMs) with 30 terabytes of storage. We connect our regional partners the way that we connect these communities, Essex is about 30 miles away, and Saugus is a direct neighbor. To connect these guys back to our data centers, we use an ENS circuit, which is basically a Layer 2 connection between the two sites that can be ramped up.

They come up in base of 10 Mbps and then they can go straight up to a 10 Gbps . We run several SQL databases, which includes our financial system. We run Microsoft Exchange, Public Safety Dispatch. There is a CAD, Computer Aided Dispatch/Records Management application, and database. We also have virtual desktops. Our entire emergency dispatch operations are all running on virtual desktops, as well as point of sale for virtual desktops.

So we run quite a few different apps, many of which are obviously pretty mission critical, and the demand is growing. We are going to be on-boarding Saugus through the summer and into the fall. So we'll be experiencing some growth through that process as well.

Gardner: Just for our audience, Essex and Saugus are also municipalities in Massachusetts, and you have been experimenting and bringing them on, so that they become paying customers to you. Do you think it is possible at some point that you're going to cover your IT cost by doing this managed-service provider business.
I also think that the services we offer to the city are better because of our equipment.

Pazos: Early on, it got to a point where we couldn't do it, but it looks to me like now we're potentially going to be in a position where maybe five or six additional clients get us to the point where we are revenue neutral to the city. That's looking a little bit more realistic for us in terms of both getting people to warm to the idea and also being able to support it.

Revenue neutral would be absolutely fantastic. If you're taxpayer in the City of Melrose and you can have a department that offers all of its services internally and be completely revenue neutral, I would be ecstatic about that.

Cousens: I also think that the services we offer to the city are better because of our equipment. Our refresh schedule is better. The stuff that we're using is more enterprise grade, because we're using it in the hosting environment and providing to a number of partners.

Gardner: Let's look at the equation of how the economics of this work from the perspective of your client municipalities, for lack of a better word. When Essex and Saugus evaluate this, are they going to be able to get their IT services from you cheaper and with a higher performance than they would have been able to do it themselves?

Pazos: There are two ways to look at that. Town of Essex has reduced their IT expenditures by 33 percent year over year. So they're immediately seeing savings every year. The story in the Town of Saugus was a little bit different. They had an IT department that had inherited infrastructure that was getting old and needed to be refreshed. They were able to buy into the service and not have to incur a large upfront cost of doing a forklift upgrade of their entire IT infrastructure.

Year-to-year savings

They're saving, year one, somewhere in the vicinity of about $80,000 or just north of $75,000. Then, there's the year-over-year savings that they're seeing. So for this three-year agreement, they feel like they're saving quite a bit of money.

Gardner: Colby, given that you had a very strong set of requirements around compatibility of being able to move from your on-premises infrastructure into a hybrid cloud model, what about Essex and Saugus? Were they also highly virtualized in their servers and workloads, and how did the compatibility from them work, moving toward your vCloud Hybrid Service set up?

Cousens: That wasn’t as much of an issue for us, because they weren't really virtualized yet at all. So part of the on-boarding process for them is virtualizing all of their servers and doing some virtual-desktop offerings, too. We got to start fresh with virtualization onsite for their services.

Gardner: I suppose you could look at that as another added value. You're actually modernizing them or guiding them into a more optimized IT infrastructure with a higher utilization. You're also helping them decide which of their services to get from the source, in this case the one that you are managing, versus perhaps a cloud provider that would not have the expertise in the customization that they're looking for.
Not only are we saving them money, but we're able to provide them services that they weren’t providing for themselves.

Pazos: Absolutely. Not only are we saving them money, but we're able to provide them services that they weren’t providing for themselves. A lot of these guys didn’t have offsite data replication.

They didn't have DR site capability. It was a pretty traditional small data center, a server room type set up in a building. Everything was a single point of failure. We're not only saving them money, but we're providing a higher level of service than they would have ordinarily been able to achieve.

Cousens: Again, in the case of Essex, the town manager is doing the IT work too. So besides the financial piece, he was having a hard time focusing on his IT stuff as well.

Pazos: I think it's important for anyone listening to the podcast that to understand that, a lot of these are small governments scattered around the state. The $75,000 that Saugus is saving this year is very big money in small town government.

In the case of Essex, quite often, people are doing double duty. They're the town accountant and the IT person, or the town administrator and the IT person. So they are also gaining from freeing themselves up to focus on their primary roles. In the town of Essex, he's able to focus on being the town administrator. That’s life in small town government in Massachusetts.

Gardner: As time goes on, it sounds like you want on-board other municipalities making them a good deal, where everybody feels like they're improving the situation at a good cost, compared to what they would have been paying otherwise. Over the next two or three years, what are you going to be looking for in terms of cloud capabilities?

There is, of course, the infrastructure, and you want the compatibility that we heard about. What about public-cloud services? Are there costs, compatibility issues, location or compliance issues? What do you think about when you look down the road towards the public-cloud components within a hybrid cloud deployment?

Competition important

Pazos: One of the important things is competition and, hopefully, as everything matures, that cost will come down. Again, for small town government, that’s extremely important. I think a lot these towns wouldn’t have this as an option, because the costs simply are just too much for them. So we would like to see to the cost come down.

Gardner: That would be a function of choice, of having a marketplace, right?

Pazos: Absolutely, yes, and with competition, hopefully that will come to be. One of the reasons that we invested the time into vCHS beta was that we really felt it was important to focus on that. We went through Beta 1 and 2, we would have done the Early Adopter Program (EAP) as well, except that we were in the midst of on-boarding Saugus.

We really committed some time to do Beta 1 and Beta 2, because I think the promise of the service offering was fantastic. We really felt like there was an opportunity there to play with a product that was extending our existing data center out into the cloud, and it blurred the lines between what was on-premises, and what was out in the cloud.
One of the primary reasons that we're looking at this is DR and business continuity.

Ideally, that's what we would like to see. When you're your managing a pool of resources, you're not really managing on-premises stuff and cloud stuff. We would like it be one large pool of resources that you are managing. I think that would be ideal.

Gardner: To circle back to some of your earlier reasons for going about this, you get that business continuity benefit. You know that your resources are going to be available, and if something goes wrong along the line within your organization, you have someone covering your back.

Pazos:  One of the primary reasons that we're looking at this is DR and business continuity. I need that diversity in being able to have different geographical zones, having somebody out in Nevada, California or wherever. That’s a diversity that is, otherwise, really impossible for me to get. So that's an important thing.

Gardner: How about some 20/20 hindsight, for those who are listening and reading about your story and experience. What might have you had done differently? Do you have any advice for those who might be also considering adopting a hybrid cloud or maybe even pursuing the notion of being either a consumer or provider of these managed services?

Pazos: When we look back at this, it’s surprising to me how we were very fortunate with timing. A lot of the things that we needed seem to have been rolling out at right around the time we needed it, which was fantastic for us.

What I would say is, whatever you've been waiting for, don’t wait. It's to the point where you just want to move ahead, and for some of this, you're going to have to adapt and sort of figure out as you go and as things evolve.

There were times early on, where we were frankly a little hesitant to do some things, because, to be honest with you, we spoke to a lot of folks in other cities and towns who just sort of cocked their heads a little bit and looked at us and said, "Really? Why are you doing this? Why would you want to do this? This seems sort of crazy." So there was a little bit of hesitation at times as we moved forward.

Solid idea

But the idea seemed solid, and we went ahead with it. That's the advice for folks -- don't really wait. Do your research, do your homework, understand what it is that you're getting yourself into, but certainly move ahead, because I really feel like this is the way we're going to be doing business. I know we are doing businesses right now, but I think a lot of folks are going to be doing business this way at some point in the near future.

Gardner: Colby what about you?

Cousens: Experimentation is key. A lot of the technologies are complicated to just look at or read about. Get in there and do an evaluation or download trial versions of different products, like we did with the Beta, with vCHS. You just have to try it out and play with it. Then you start to realize the true value as you apply it to actual use cases.
Experimentation is key. . . . Get in there and do an evaluation or download trial versions of different products.

Gardner: Well, great. I am afraid we will have to leave it there. We've been talking about how a small city outside of Boston has embraced the hybrid-cloud computing to host not only its own applications, but those of nearby communities as well.

We learned how the City of Melrose, Massachusetts, plans to reduce the cost of supporting its application down to zero by transitioning from high server virtualization to revenue making managed services built on a cloud capability, and they have been so far using VMware vCloud Hybrid Service as a beta user to experiment and perfect this approach.

Thank you very much to our guests, Jorge Pazos, the CIO, the Chief Information Officer at the City of Melrose. Thank you, Jorge.

Pazos: Thank you.

Gardner: And also, we have been here with Colby Cousens, the IT Systems Administrator there in Melrose. Thank you so much, Colby.

Cousens: Thank you also.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks, also to all audience for joining, and don’t forget to come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on how one municipality has broadened its own IT infrastructure to become a managed-service provider for other cities and towns. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2013. All rights reserved.

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