The role of a Chief Information Officer grows more demanding by the day, with an uncertain economy putting a drag on business and customers placing higher expectations of IT departments and services. As the CIO of a small city, I face many of the same challenges as my counterparts in business, and in some ways even more given that municipal governments have strict limits on spending and tax increases.
To meet the 21st century needs of our citizens in a resource-limited environment, the city of Melrose had to get creative. I believe our story may provide governments and businesses alike useful ideas on how to approach IT transformation.
Located seven miles north of Boston and with a population of 28,000, Melrose has a long tradition of self-sufficiency, with excellent schools and cultural facilities. But until recently our IT system was outdated and inefficient. We had two separate data centers, one serving schools and the other the city. Each had different hardware providers, different support agreements, and different tools for different pieces of hardware, even different generations of equipment from the same manufacturers.
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan believes that the only solution to our budgetary restrictions is for communities in Massachusetts to form regional partnerships. So in 2009 we began working with NetApp on a re-imagination of our IT system, with a cloud-based virtualized data center that could not only meet the needs of Melrose, but those of other nearby towns and cities.
Melrose invested in a FlexPod® data center solution, which gets its muscles from the unified architecture and standardized platform of NetApp® storage and virtualization software from VMware, which has been a catalyst for the development of cloud computing. The system is networked through powerful Cisco® switches and services, including a Nexus® 7000 core switch; a series of FAS2040 appliances; and UCS™ blade servers. Our information is now about 95% virtualized, while all of the city’s critical apps, including financial systems, now run in a virtualized environment.
The Melrose IT department is now able to meet a growing number of data, compliance, and operational demands that are increasingly a burden for cities without strong systems, including e-mail archiving, public records requests, saving documents, and retrieving documents. We closed what was a glaring business continuity gap in the event of a natural or manmade disaster. Better yet, the city’s annual IT costs are reduced by a third.
We’ve already proven the concept of regional partnership—the Melrose health department serves two other cities—which has paid incredible operational dividends and made our communities healthier. Now we are offering the cloud to cities that cannot afford a major investment like the FlexPod data center - an architecture that has the capacity to grow without additional costs or hardware which is one of the most important benefits of this solution.
The town of Essex has already migrated its data to the Melrose center, and several others are considering joining the regional IT partnership, the first of its kind in Massachusetts. Essex has seen its IT costs drop by a third. The fees paid to Melrose help defray our IT expenditures. Taken together, the savings have freed enough funds to help renovate the local high school.
In an era of limited municipal resources, this example of creativity and innovation is one that other towns across the nation might be wise to follow. And for businesses that are not in direct competition, shared IT services in the cloud may be a model well worth consideration.