Loudoun County IT Looks to the Cloud

Technical problems that brought down computer systems countywide two weeks ago gave new urgency to the county government’s plans to move to the cloud.

Power supply problems at one of the county’s aging in-house data centers brought down many of the county’s systems and persisted for two days. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet told supervisors at a meeting during the outages that the IT staff had been working around the clock to get everything running again, and that the outages may have accelerated ongoing plans to move many county systems to the cloud.

“What we had originally anticipated was that we would slowly begin moving aspects into the cloud where it made sense,” said Department of Information Technology Director Wendy Wickens. “The reality is that it may make more sense to move quickly.”

The county is contracting with technology research firm Gartner Inc. to develop and plan out the costs of a cloud strategy. Wickens said that report is expected by the first week of March. Some county applications are already cloud-based—including the library system and the real estate appraisal system.

Wickens said moving to the cloud gives the county cost savings, the ability to grow and shrink systems as needed, and resiliency.

“What I think we’re looking for is really leveraging the cloud to ensure that we have full disaster recovery,” Wickens said. “So in the event of some kind of significant or catastrophic event, we can continue to operate, because our systems are backed up in multiple data centers.”

Wickens said it the transition also marks a shift in the role of IT departments away from being “Mr. Fix-it.”

“There’s this concept of IT as provider, where we are a provider of services, versus IT as a broker of services,” Wickens said. In the second case, IT staff members use their knowledge to manage vendors of programs and services.

“In a lot of ways, we’re very lean as a county in how we manage things,” Wickens said. “Leveraging the cloud is actually a really good opportunity for us to continue to be lean and also grow.”