When Mitch Daniels became governor of Indiana in 2005 after a career in business, he assumed the state government used the efficient technology tools with which he was familiar. It didn’t.
For example, when Daniels wanted to send an e-mail message to someone in state government, his e-mail address book might not include the name. Employees throughout the government had the same problem, hampering their ability to communicate across agencies. Meanwhile, agencies were spending large amounts of time and money to manage desktop and server computers—taking away from the time and money that they wanted to spend on innovative solutions to improve the services available to citizens.
“The governor asked us to take a look at IT across the state and dramatically improve the service levels while reducing the cost,” recalls Gerry Weaver, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Indiana Office of Technology.
At fault was a highly decentralized technology infrastructure with parts that had been built independently over time and that didn’t, or couldn’t, share information. Most state agencies had their own applications running on their own computers and managed by their own IT staffs.
For example, there were 20 e-mail solutions running on 130 server computers in 50 locations, including Novell GroupWise and several versions of Microsoft® Exchange Server. There was no global address list and no shared calendars, and thus no easy way to arrange meetings or collaborate.
There was a similar lack of consistency in operating systems, with agencies using various versions of the Windows® operating system on desktop and server computers, as well as Novell NetWare, UNIX, IBM AS/400, and others.
Given the enormous range of services provided by the government—from public safety and social welfare to employment services and motor vehicle registration—there was an equally enormous number of applications, totaling in the hundreds, that the state had to support across its approximately 25,000 desktop computers. IT professionals couldn’t say exactly which applications were being used where, how many applications there were, or precisely how many computers were in the infrastructure, because there was no centralized way to track them.
Nor was there a centralized or automated way to distribute updates to those applications. When employees received updated versions of their business productivity software, there was a good chance that aging line-of-business software would stop responding due to new incompatibilities.
The government used Altiris Notification Server in an attempt to manage this environment but that software didn’t scale sufficiently for the state’s infrastructure, cost more than U.S.$2 million in licensing, didn’t work in a unified way across the state’s 11 domains, and didn’t give help-desk personnel reliable remote access to troubleshoot employees’ computers, according to Dave Fischer, SMS and Database Analyst, Indiana Office of Technology.
Governor Daniels and his administration wanted to tackle a variety of challenges facing the state, including improving childcare, education, public health, and state finances. They couldn’t begin to do so effectively without a technology infrastructure that facilitated innovative solutions, rather than one that threw up obstacles to those solutions.
The Indiana governor’s first step was to create the Office of Technology, to give the state a centralized administrative structure to address its core IT infrastructure issues and optimize that core infrastructure. Administrators in the new office identified what they saw as the most decentralized service: e-mail communications. Their plan was twofold: first, to migrate the various e-mail systems to a consistent e-mail solution and, then, to consolidate that solution for maximize efficiency.
Starting with E-Mail
The e-mail solution that administrators chose was Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (an upgrade to Exchange Server 2007 is planned). Exchange Server offered the scalability that the state needed to support its 25,000 users and the clustering capability that it wanted to boost reliability. Exchange Server also offered the integration with Windows Server® 2003 Active Directory® service that would eliminate the need to create, maintain, and synchronize a separate e-mail directory.
The state worked in phases, bringing users into a consistent, but still decentralized, system of 12 computers running Exchange Server 2003. As part of this migration, the state expanded its Active Directory forest to include all state agencies in 11 domains.
It then consolidated the e-mail infrastructure to eight computers operating in a pair of four-node clusters with three active computers and one passive computer in each cluster. A ninth computer serves for backup and recovery. Microsoft Antigen e-mail and collaboration server security software provides antivirus support. The migration and consolidation were accomplished over 18 months, with the nine computers replacing the more than one hundred computers used previously.
Choosing a Single Operating System
As the state brought more applications into the new infrastructure, it faced the question of which operating system to use. For example, when the state was ready to update its unemployment compensation system, a Linux-based system was proposed by the state’s vendor.
“We looked at moving to Linux and decided to go with Windows Server,” says Brian Arrowood, Director of Service Operations, Indiana Office of Technology. “We had good reasons for Windows Server—it would give us the performance and reliability that we wanted—and no good reason to go to Linux. We had the resources, the people, in place to support Windows Server. There was no reason to train and maintain a staff for Linux as well.”
Virtualizing the Desktop
To address the challenge of providing hundreds of line-of-business desktop applications to relatively limited numbers of users, the state adopted Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, a set of technologies that reduce application deployment costs, enable delivery of applications as services, and allow for better management and control of enterprise desktop environments.
In particular, the state took advantage of Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualization, which it uses to:
- Deploy virtual versions of many of the applications that users require, without having to undergo costly compatibility testing.
- Maintain those applications on desktop computers.
- Troubleshoot configuration issues and other problems arising from unique collections of applications on user desktops.
The virtualization technology also eliminates incompatibilities between the older applications and the 2007 Microsoft Office system software that the state has deployed, and enables the state to be more flexible and responsive to agency needs.
The state can virtualize an application, create a protected “sandbox” space on the target computer, and then download the virtual software without having to grant users administrative rights and without changing the underlying configuration settings of the computer. The state controls authorization to the virtual software through its updated Active Directory service.
Managing the Infrastructure
To manage its 25,000 desktop computers and 1,200 server computers, the state migrated from Altiris Notification Server to Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007. The state uses System Center Configuration Manager to handle security updates, distribution of both Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications, asset intelligence, and remote help-desk functions.
The System Center Configuration Manager architecture includes a central site server, two primary sites (each serving half of the desktop computer population), and 15 secondary sites connected to each of the primary sites. The branch distribution capability in System Center Configuration Manager enables the state to distribute software among computers at its smaller locations without requiring the use of dedicated distribution servers at those locations.
As a result of the core IT infrastructure optimization process, the state of Indiana has boosted system reliability and productivity while saving $14 million and enabling a range of new services for its residents.
E-Mail Availability Increased to 99.99 Percent
The state implemented its core infrastructure optimization in part to dramatically increase service levels. With the first stages of optimization in place, that’s what the state has accomplished. Availability of the e-mail system, for example, has risen from 99.9 percent to 99.99 percent.
“The increase in Exchange Server availability from three nines to four nines is a very significant increase,” says Jim Rose, Manager of Systems Administration, Indiana Office of Technology. “Together with the migration and consolidation into a single, statewide infrastructure that facilitates interagency communication and collaboration, this makes the e mail system much more useful. It’s a system that our people can truly depend on. And our success with increased e-mail reliability was a great way to build credibility among state employees and agencies for the move to the new infrastructure.”
The state employees who depend on the e mail system may not know just how reliable it is—and that’s all right by Paul Baltzell, Distributed Services Manager, Indiana Office of Technology. “Sometime after we completed the migration and consolidation, we had a fire in one of our e-mail servers; the network cards were actually smoking,” says Baltzell. “The clustered system worked so well that there was no service interruption. No one knew we had an outage. With the previous system, we would have been down until we could repair the damage. That shows me how far we’ve come.”
Before the optimization process began, the state didn’t establish service level agreements or performance goals because it didn’t have the technologies in place to monitor performance. Now, it does. “We established what we call world-class metrics, and we’ve improved performance steadily to the point where we meet or exceed those metrics,” says CIO Weaver. “Our service levels in our latest benchmarks are equivalent to any of the best companies out there.”
IT Costs Cut by $14 Million
Two years after it began infrastructure optimization, the state estimates it has saved more than $14 million, including $6 million in reduced support costs.
In addition to that savings, the state sees savings throughout its organization from increased productivity. The Indiana Office of Technology, the central IT organization, has gone from managing 900 desktops to managing 25,000 desktops without significantly increasing staff. The e-mail hardware consolidation is one contributor to this productivity gain; the number of technicians required to support the e-mail system has been slashed by more than 80 percent, from 24 to 4, enabling reassignment to more strategic functions.
In addition, Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack helps IT deploy desktop applications more quickly, while reducing downtime for users while they wait for those applications. The ability to virtualize all key components of any Windows-based application allows administrators to accelerate each step of the application management process by compressing the time necessary for packaging and preparing applications, deployment, update management, support, and termination. And with System Center Configuration Manager, the state is tracking software licensing and use, and consolidating licensing expenses as a result.
“The IT consolidation and all of its associated components have created tremendous savings for the state and its taxpayers,” says Adam Horst, Deputy Budget Director, Indiana State Budget Agency. “That’s really proven valuable in meeting the state’s budget and getting us out of our deficit.”
New Services Enabled for Residents
The increased reliability and productivity of the core infrastructure, combined with its reduced costs, have helped produce what Weaver calls “a tremendous improvement in the services that we can deliver.”
For example, the state has implemented a new unemployment insurance system that provides benefits through a credit card instead of requiring recipients to wait for and then deposit paper checks. A new solution at the Department of Motor Vehicles has cut typical waiting times from an hour to five minutes. And the state is in the process of implementing an antifraud program based on information sharing that wasn’t previously possible.
“One of the biggest benefits we get from optimizing our infrastructure is that our agencies can focus on their missions and on new IT initiatives to support those missions, rather than needing to focus on running their IT systems,” says Arrowood. “They’re not backing up servers and deploying desktops. They’re creating value and improving the lives of the citizens of Indiana.”