Green IT Enables a Thriving Technology Center

By Chelo Picardal  |  Posted 2012-06-14

By Chelo Picardal

Meeting the demands of a growing and thriving technology center requires a strong, efficient and agile IT foundation. Once a small suburb of Seattle, Bellevue is now the fifth largest city in Washington state, with a population of more than 122,000, and it has been called one of the most livable cities in America. Incorporated in 1953, Bellevue is a high-tech hub that delivers content-rich services to its citizens—from online access to permitting processes to video capture for community events to an online traffic-flow map—driving the need for a robust technology infrastructure.

As CTO for the city of Bellevue, my technical responsibilities encompass network and server infrastructure, technology strategies, enterprise architecture, technology standards and security. My ultimate goal is to use technology to solve tough problems, make operations more efficient, and help the people of Bellevue connect, engage and explore.

My team and I took a deliberate approach to strengthening our IT infrastructure and investing in technology that could transport the city into the future. The first step for my team, which consists of 10 full-time IT systems and network administrators, was to assess the challenges we faced.

The Challenge

As state and local governments continue to face tight budgets and demands for more or improved services, managing growing data volumes and meeting aggressive service-level agreements becomes a daunting challenge. We don’t have the budget to continually purchase new storage capacity and hire the IT staff to manage the growing infrastructure. On the other hand, simply counting on existing resources to meet growing needs was not a sustainable solution.

For the city, the transformation to a thriving high-tech hub required an optimized IT infrastructure to support online city services, an extensive application portfolio to manage city operations and 35 percent annual data growth—all while lowering costs to meet budget reduction targets and staying committed to green IT. To meet these goals, we embarked on a multiyear data center and operations upgrade that reduced environmental impact as part of the city’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI).

Bellevue’s ESI effort focuses on developing a community whose decisions and actions explicitly integrate and balance economic, ecological and social impacts with the stated goals of working toward sustainable operational practices; engaging employees, residents and businesses in sustainable practices; and building on the city’s reputation as an environmental innovator and leader.

To effectively support the city’s growth, we needed to replace a seven-year-old storage infrastructure that was maxed out on processor capacity and rethink our expanding server farm. Not only did the existing system make it difficult to expand storage and attach new systems, but performance requirements could not be met, causing the city to have less than a year of storage capacity left.

We outlined a storage consolidation and server virtualization strategy that required deduplication and other storage efficiency technologies, plus replication technology to meet the stringent recovery point objectives (RPO) of critical systems for our disaster recovery needs. 


The Solution

My team worked with Integrated Archive Systems (IAS) on streamlining our storage infrastructure to improve performance, simplify management, increase efficiencies and enable easy scalability. For the green data center operations, we consolidated direct-attached storage, network-attached storage and storage area network on a NetApp unified storage architecture. We leveraged VMware to virtualize and consolidate 70 percent of our approximately 200 servers, and we plan to hit our 80 percent virtualization goal this year. 

Consolidating storage with virtualization enables IT to quickly deliver customer services with faster and easier provisioning. The consolidated infrastructure has set us up nicely for appropriate disaster recovery plans, private cloud for secure multitenancy and isolation, and virtual desktops.

It is also very easy for our administrators to use and quickly respond to storage needs. Above all, we now have a flexible, expandable and manageable system that enables the point-in-time recovery that our customers need, along with the ability to deliver services via a private cloud that lets us segment services without spawning new infrastructure. 

Additionally, as a result of our storage consolidation and virtualization strategy, we have unified our previously disparate storage silos into a shared, centrally managed resource for long-term planning, trending and capacity management. We gained outstanding performance, scalability and efficiency, resulting in better services to our customers—the city departments that serve our growing population.

Our new unified storage achieved 30 to 40 percent storage space savings with NetApp deduplication out of the box, allowing us to avoid buying more storage for the past couple of years—a big help for our constrained budget. Another key benefit is that our IT department has reduced recovery point objectives (RPOs) from 24 hours to one or two hours for critical applications, while reducing administration time by 30 percent. This enabled our IT staff to focus on other job responsibilities.

All the benefits our IT department has gained ultimately connect back to the city’s continued commitment to environmental stewardship and reducing our carbon footprint. We were able to minimize the environmental impact of the city’s IT operations by decreasing material use and energy consumption that helps support our Energy Star building certification for City Hall.

As part of this commitment, Bellevue IT and its facilities organization installed outside air cooling for our data centers, set higher data center temperatures and installed more-accurate power meters to better measure and assess trends in our energy consumption. We improved our power-usage effectiveness (PUE) from 1.6 in 2007 to 1.5 in 2011. We also facilitated teleworking by enabling remote access to our applications and data, instituted double-sided printing as the default (delivering a 17 percent reduction in paper use) and extended equipment life cycles: PC life was extended from three years to four, and server life was extended from four years to five.

The partnerships with our core vendors—Citrix, Microsoft, NetApp and VMware—were instrumental in achieving our solutions. The vendors responded to our business needs and provided sophisticated products to achieve cohesive, seamless solutions. They also brought ideas from their other customers that would work in our environment and helped us keep up with industry best practices.

These projects have had an impact on the employees and citizens of the city of Bellevue. We will continue to build on our environmental achievements with more projects for submitting plans online, mobile apps for field staff, environmental portals for businesses and citizens, and unified communications for all staff members. With these projects, we hope to increase productivity, while reducing paper use, vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

As a growing, thriving metropolis with limited resources, the city of Bellevue constantly strives to do more with less and make the most of our IT investments. By using our normal replacement cycle to overhaul our IT infrastructure, we are better positioned to meet expanding business demands amid the challenge of budget reductions.

And, by implementing an efficient IT infrastructure, Bellevue has become more resource-efficient and is saving money without compromising customer service, security or resiliency.

Chelo Picardal is the CTO for the city of Bellevue, Wash.