How Municipal Governments Use Data Centers to Protect Their Critical Data

Even as the economy recovers, municipal governments face significant budgetary pressures. As budgets shrink, cities and towns are looking for innovative and cost-effective ways to protect critical data while maintaining the required level of service to residents. In addition to the pressure on current and future budget resources, local governments must also deal with mitigating a wide range of risks – from disaster recovery to scalability.

But what is the best course of action to overcome these challenges? This scenario has led municipalities to consider two primary alternatives: data center consolidation and outsourcing.

Consolidate, Outsource or Both?

For some local governments, consolidating data center operations is the answer. This strategy involves substantially reducing the number of operational data centers across a local government. These data centers can range from storage closets to dedicated on-site facilities within the various governmental agencies and departments. A consolidation initiative would combine operations into a fewer number of facilities.

Consolidation projects at the state and city government level usually start by adopting a “zero-growth” strategy for data center space. Agencies must meet current and future demand for services without expanding their data center resources. The next step is actually reducing the number of operational data centers.

The objective of these two steps in the consolidation process is to leverage potential cost savings. In addition, consolidation can improve other aspects of the operation, such as security and management.

Although consolidating the data center operations of municipalities can be a positive move, many local governments have decided to embrace a data center colocation strategy. They can outsource data center space in addition to consolidating many on-premises operations, or transition entirely to a data center colocation model.

The Inherent Risks in an On-Site Data Center Strategy

Although a data consolidation initiative can reduces costs and improve efficiencies for many municipalities, many risks still exist for on-site data center operations.

  • Budget Resources – Municipal governments can only invest in data center projects to the extent their capital budgets will support them. The smaller the budget, the fewer the number of projects will be funded. Lack of an adequate budget affects a local government’s ability to expand data center operations when needed, deploy the latest facility technologies, staff the best qualified IT experts, and more.
  • Disaster Recovery Capabilities – Every on-premise data center must protect sensitive information and maintain critical services during a power outage. Ensuring availability becomes increasingly difficult given the continuous threats from natural and man-made disasters.
  • Physical Security – A high level of physical security includes sophisticated access controls and around-the-clock monitoring systems. Multiple layers of security are costly to implement and maintain. Without these measures, municipalities could be at a greater risk of experiencing a physical security breach.
  • Regulatory and Standards Compliance – Keeping up with new mandates is a challenge for municipalities. And, having the funds available to invest in programs to protect sensitive data adds to the difficulty. However, without a thorough understanding of compliance or industry-standard requirements and measures in place to protect data, local governments are at risk for potential adverse consequences.
  • Power Infrastructure – Installing redundant power systems is expensive. To be able to respond to a system power failure, municipalities need redundant UPS, battery banks and generators in place.
  • Environmental Controls – In every municipal data center operation, temperature, humidity, air flow and other environmental conditions must be controlled and monitored. Without the latest technologies to address these measures, downtime risk increases.
  • Energy Efficiency – Reducing energy consumption without compromising continuous availability is often tricky for local governments. Many municipalities don’t have the required budget or expertise to strike a meaningful balance between these two often opposing goals.
  • IT Talent – In addition to budget constraints, an IT talent shortage in some areas can cause staffing difficulties. Without sufficient IT staff, the municipal data center may not be able to keep pace with the demands placed on them.
  • Scalability – What happens when your in-house data center needs more capacity? Will your municipality have the resources needed to expand it? With budget limitations, few local governments can invest in building new data centers or expanding existing facilities.
  • Network Services – Access to high-speed connectivity solutions can be costly. Existing solutions may also lack the needed functionality. Without redundant, high-speed connections, municipalities may not be able to ensure continuous network availability.

How Data Center Colocation Helps Mitigate These Risks

When it comes to municipal data centers, a local government’s objectives are to minimize risk, capture cost savings, simplify IT complexity, and ensure compliance. In many situations, a data center colocation strategy provides everything a municipality needs to meet these objectives.

With the right provider relationship, data center colocation has the right systems in place to provide continuous service levels, even during a disaster. They offer strong physical security systems, compliant processes, environmental controls and energy reduction measures. Since your operation can easily and cost-efficiently scale up or down at the end of your current contract term, addressing future requirements is not an issue. In addition, you have access to the latest IT infrastructure technologies, IT talent and high-speed network services.

Which data center strategy IT leaders in city government choose to follow depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, is whether they have the budget available to build, expand or maintain an on-site operation. If a municipality does not have the needed funds to mitigate the significant number of risks facing an in-house data center operation, it should explore an outsourcing strategy.

The question each city government must ask is whether they really want to own data center infrastructure and incur the capital costs that go along with that decision. Often the answer to that question is no – municipalities are increasingly opting to leverage a service provider that can spread the cost of operating a data center to multiple customers. The end result is often fewer risks, lower capital costs, access to advanced infrastructures and less worry.

Assess Your Local Government’s Data Center Risk

If you’d like to better understand your municipal government’s level of data center risk, take FairPoint Communications’ “Risk Assessment Questionnaire for Municipalities.” By answering nine multiple-choice questions, you’ll gain helpful insight into your municipality’s risk exposure – high-, medium- or low-risk.

FairPoint Communications’ data centers provide organizations with network connectivity and rack space in physically secure, reliable locations. Municipalities can use this space as primary or secondary data center sites. In addition, data center colocation space can also be employed as an essential part of a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy. FairPoint Communications’ data centers are strictly controlled environments with essential power, cooling, connectivity and physical security features.

For data center colocation services that address your municipal government’s requirements, call FairPoint Communications (1.866.984.4001) or visit www.FairPoint.com/businessclassdatacenter.

Vice President Karen Romano is Vice President, Government and Education at FairPoint Communications, a leading provider of advanced communications technology in northern New England and 14 other states across the U.S.