State and Local Agencies Keep Costs in LineBy Bob Violino Print
Government agencies are implementing virtualization, cloud computing, and mobile devices and applications to help keep costs in line and deliver quality services to the public.
By Bob Violino
Striving to increase efficiency and improve services at a time when budgets are tighter, state and local governments are turning to IT solutions that can help them meet their goals. Like many technology users in business, government agencies are implementing virtualization, cloud computing, and mobile devices and applications to help keep costs in line and deliver quality services to the public.
Virtualization—at both the server and desktop level—has enabled Iowa's Workforce Development Agency (IWD) to save money and improve services. The agency contributes to the economic security of Iowa's workers, businesses and communities through a comprehensive statewide system of employment services, along with education and the regulation of health, safety and employment laws.
Facing budget cuts at both the state and federal level, IWD was forced to reduce the number of its physical offices across the state from 55 to 19, but it still needed a way to provide services. "Even though budgets were being cut tremendously, the need to provide services was not reduced," says Gary Bateman, CIO at IWD. "Our citizens still need our services, and we needed to find a better way to provide those services."
The department had been providing virtual desktops to its employees for a couple of years, using software from VMware. When faced with losing physical offices, it decided to expand the use of the virtual technology to allow citizens access to services without the need to drive to one of the remaining offices.
To accomplish that, IWD teamed with public partners that already had Internet access—including libraries, places of worship, abuse shelters, National Guard Armories, and high schools across the state—to offer the same services previously available only in physical offices.
IWD began the rollout of virtual access points (VAP) in July 2011 and set a goal of deploying a total of 200 sites—with at least one in all 99 counties—by the end of 2011. The agency did more than meet this goal: It far surpassed it, with more than 500 sites and almost 2,000 desktops by year end.
When the agency started deploying virtual desktops to employees a few years ago, it encountered a problem managing storage for the new virtualized desktop environment. To solve the problem of data access bottlenecks and for easier management of data, IWD purchased a storage management system from NetApp.
"Having VMware coupled with the storage system from NetApp [gave] us the flexibility to react quickly when we needed to deploy VAPs across the state," says Jean Foshier, lead systems architect with the agency.
IWD is also benefiting from a server virtualization strategy that it launched more than four years ago using virtualization software from VMware and blade servers. About 85 percent of the department's Windows and Linux servers are now virtualized, and IWD has reduced the number of physical servers considerably, Foshier says.
The department is also expanding its use of tablets and smartphones to provide employees with easier access to applications and data from a variety of locations.
"VMware allows us to run a virtual Windows 7 desktop on an iPad and reap the benefits of mobility without the risk of storing data on the mobile device," says CIO Bateman. "This technology is allowing us to provide services to more people than was possible with physical offices."
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