Jazzed About Network Consolidation: A Simple Solution to Cutting Municipal IT Costs

by Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience for Sophicity

The great jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.” When it comes to IT administration, there are plenty of opportunities to make things unnecessarily complex, especially with the sheer number of different services, products, and vendors out there. Luckily, for city decision makers looking to get creative with their budget, there are also a growing number of ways to combat complexity through consolidation, presenting an attractive opportunity to reduce costs and do more with less.

Like any well-planned solution, consolidating starts by understanding the problems that the city faces. Here, the problem arises out of the basic nature of municipal government: providing a wide array of services to citizens - from public works to judiciary functions – necessitates multiple departments, each with its own specialized set of needs. In many cases, the departments are not all located in the same building, so the city evolves to separate and unique networks for City Hall, Public Safety, the Court, and other departments. While this design philosophy might have made sense fifteen years ago in an era before widespread adoption of the internet, today it can make administration difficult as different technologies, software versions, and skill sets pile up over the years. City decision makers and IT managers are increasingly looking at consolidation as a way to solve budget shortfalls, heighten security and add efficiency.

An expectation from a centralization plan is consolidating the network administration; it simply doesn’t make sense to have separate servers, network equipment, and support staff at each location. Instead, most network administration functions, including servers, backups, and maintenance can be moved to a Network Operations Center (NOC) where they are administered by a single team. Furthermore, technologies like virtualization allow many of the servers from the remote locations to be combined into fewer servers at the NOC, reducing hardware, software, maintenance, and power costs. Centralizing and standardizing the network also helps IT staff keep consistent and uniform practices in place for each department, instead of a headache-inducing patchwork of different processes and technologies at each site. The city might also want to look at all of its voice and data lines to ensure that they are also centralized where possible and that they provide the proper level of speed and service for a given department. Add everything up and you’ll get reduced maintenance costs and a simpler environment. The removal of server equipment from the remote locations will free up valuable office space, reduce a potential point of compromise or attack, and drastically reduce energy costs.

One fear that some department heads may have about using a NOC is a perceived loss of control and security over their particular domain of operations. While it’s true that the physical servers may not be located in the same building, modern network administration technologies allow the NOC to delegate security measures to individuals at the remote sites. A site administrator can still have most of the same administration access they had before; they’ll just be doing it remotely. To overcome these fears, it may help to have your IT staff or vendor give a demonstration of how this would work. Also, having all of the hardware in one location makes it much easier to secure from theft and track who has access to the server room. It may take a little education to overcome this hurdle, but once addressed, it’s easy to see how the advantages outweigh the risks.

Consolidation and centralization is a great way to add simplicity to every level of the administration by dealing with fewer vendors, heightening security via controlled access and reducing support and maintenance and energy costs. And as tougher regulations, higher visibility to the public, and tighter budgets add further levels of complexity to municipal IT management, network consolidation is an elegantly simple solution for an increasingly complex landscape - there’s no “II B.S.”about it. [1]

[1]I just couldn’t resist a jazz joke here. “II B.S.” is one of Charles Mingus’ more famous compositions. While this name first appeared on the 1963 album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, the song was actually a re-recorded and renamed version of the earlier “Haitian Fight Song” which first appeared in 1955 on The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach.

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