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Miami-Dade County Tackles Cloud Projects In-House

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, Mapping Government’s Journey to the Cloud: 8 Success Stories. The guide includes interviews with federal, state and local officials who have overcome common barriers to cloud adoption, including procurement and security. Download the full guide here to get their insights and tips for success. 

There’s no denying that cloud computing has saved government agencies a lot of money and made IT operations more efficient. But too often conversations about the tangible benefits overshadow the work required to ensure that those benefits become reality.

Sure, agencies can easily purchase some cloud infrastructure services online with a credit card, but other solutions require more legwork to roll out. Often, agencies work closely with contractors to implement the cloud system, make sure it’s functional and ensure that employees can use the service and integrate it into any necessary backend systems.

Gary Lee, Systems Support Manager for Miami-Dade County’s IT Department, has firsthand knowledge of this process. But unlike many of his government counterparts, Lee and his technical staff don’t rely on outside expertise to implement cloud solutions. Everything is done in-house.

“We’ve found that one of the big drawbacks of having consultants come in and install applications or hardware is that when they leave, they take away the technical expertise,” Lee said. “And you’re left with just enough knowledge to barely manage infrastructure. With us, we procure, install and manage the infrastructure and do all the equipment refreshes, and all that is done in-house.”

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His staff is actively involved in the cloud journey, including the procurement process and equipment replacements and upgrades later on. “They’ve been through the whole cycle,” Lee said.

One of the county’s most recent projects involved implementing software to back up its entire virtual cloud environment and replicating data offsite to ensure it is accessible in the event of a disaster or incident. This automated process happens in the background without users even knowing, but it’s vital to the work they do.

“It’s part of the whole cloud deployment,” Lee said of the county’s private cloud environment. “Not only are we deploying the physical infrastructure to provide [departments] computing resources, but we’re also protecting that infrastructure by doing data backups every day, and replicating it offsite.”

In the past, when it came time to recover data from those backup systems, it would take several hours before employees could use their systems again. The department would first have to reinstall operating systems and applications and recover any data lost on the server.

The newer backup technology that the county uses today ensures that everything is saved as a full image, including the operating system, applications and any configurations on the server, before it goes down. This change has helped cut recovery time by more than 50 percent, Lee said. The new software has allowed the county to distribute the load of data recovery among different pieces of software, rather than relying on just one product to do all the work.

Faster recovery times mean the agencies that depend on the county’s virtual cloud environment can get back to fulfilling their missions sooner if there is a disruption.

But having the right technology in place is just part of the equation. Governments need skilled employees who understand how the solutions work and integrate with other systems.

“We actually provision and manage 99 percent of all our infrastructure in-house,” Lee said. “We seldom get a vendor to come in and offer consulting services. It just so happens that our staff are trained and are experienced with managing almost the entire environment.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the norm for most government IT departments. One reason is staff are stuck maintaining legacy systems and they don’t get the opportunity to build their skills. Even those who have the technical expertise may find themselves hampered by budgets.

“The success of what you do within IT is really dependent on the level of expertise of the technical staff,” Lee said. “And that is what Miami-Dade has. The level of expertise is fantastic, and that has really made the difference.”

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