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How Cloud Computing Jump-Started A State Agency

A new CIO, a shrinking budget, and a commitment to serving mobile employees pointed to the solution: cloud apps and a cluster of virtualized x86 servers.

Open Campus was demonstrated for PUC employees and for viewing by other state employees at the Conference on California's Future this month. It's currently being rolled out to its first 300 users, with 1,200 PUC employees slated to receive access over the next 18 months.

Another cloud application was of a social networking app called Momentum, which was developed with Ektron's CMS 400 content management system. The app implements knowledge-sharing repositories, including one where job expertise can be shared with the next holder of the post -- also wikis, blogs, and other collaboration devices for PUC employees.

Lawson said she calls Open Campus and Momentum cloud applications because they are hosted on a cluster of x86 servers -- there are a total of 50 now in the San Francisco data center -- and delivered throughout the state via secure network connections or Web services. The number of servers is in decline as Lawson oversees more virtualization of the data center.

In addition, the cluster in San Francisco has been designed so that it can fail over to a satellite data center in Los Angeles or Sacramento if the San Francisco center fails due to earthquake or another disaster.

The design reflects the staff's experience with the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 in the Bay Area. "Because our environment had been put together so piecemeal, the San Francisco data center was down for several days. The staff still talks about what it wanted to do but couldn't," she said.

The systems are still vulnerable. The design is there, but SAN systems similar to San Francisco's need to be installed in Los Angeles and Sacramento for the failover capability to become operative. Then the outage of one site can trigger activation of duplicate systems, stored on the SAN, in another location. Budget constraints keep the full plan from being implemented.

Nevertheless, Lawson is convinced the staff is on a new, more self-confident path, and PUC systems are headed in the right direction. The debut of Open Campus and Momentum represent the culmination of 12 intense months work. "When it was ready to launch, the team didn't realize how spectacular an accomplishment it was," she said of Open Campus.

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