The Last Frontier has entered a transformative time with several major initiatives to leap farther forward toward the digital frontier. In addition to the excitement of the state’s coordinated effort to deliver world-class broadband across our great state, the Office of Information Technology of the Department of Management has spent the past two years carrying out significant and thoughtful preliminary work to move the vast majority of state servers and software applications from on-premises data centers to a cloud environment. By utilizing state-of-the-art facilities, this effort will provide greater security around our citizen’s data, more flexibility and better reliability, and rapidly modernize Alaska’s technical infrastructure.
At the most basic level, cloud computing is the provision of remote computing services. Instead of relying on a server located in our office or data center, cloud computing uses servers hosted in other central locations. The state of Alaska has long used cloud-based systems in the form of hundreds of SaaS applications, and the current large-scale project is continuing and accelerating efforts to take advantage of the benefits available with cloud computing.
In early 2020, following the decision to modernize, scale, and secure the nation’s infrastructure through cloud migration, we partnered with industry leaders to assess the best path forward and choose a solution that matches our current environment. After extensive employee training, we began evaluating individual applications of traffic and moving representative servers to assess their performance.
Since other countries have tried this “one by one” approach, although effective, it can be costly and time-consuming when it comes to evaluating thousands of country servers and software. Amid the pandemic response, we identified the need to further improve the process and began looking for a faster or more cost-effective approach that fits our computing needs and goals. Earlier this year, the specific tools needed for such a rapid migration of our systems were made available in our select cloud data centers, paving the way for a full migration.
The cost of in-house infrastructure delivery has increased since we began this journey, and the “cloud first” strategy is not about matching existing capabilities. Instead, it provides a more cost-effective and sustainable vision that upgrades our infrastructure to meet the needs and expectations of our citizens by utilizing the latest technologies that exceed our current capabilities on premises. With the support of the legislature, we secured funding in the governor’s budget for 2023 and a large-scale immigration project began last month. This project is the culmination of the preparations that have been made over the past two years. It involves close partnership with industry leaders and technology professionals in all state departments.
Migrating to cloud-based servers is an important part of the state’s ongoing work to take full advantage of world-class security features to protect Alaska’s data, modernize government IT systems, and dramatically improve the state’s resilience to unexpected disruptions.
The evolution of cyber security threats requires massive resources to continually update and protect computing systems. Migrating to the cloud allows us to maintain strict compliance with the latest security standards. Modern cloud providers have huge economies of scale that allow them to quickly adapt to a changing threat, avoiding delays in response.
The country will be able to increase storage and computing without purchasing new hardware, provide dynamic disaster recovery by easily locating backups in various locations, and quickly adjust capacity based on our actual needs. The flexibility inherent in the cloud means you spend less time replacing expensive hardware and more time focusing on providing services.
This is an exciting time to work in IT for Alaska. The increasing focus on cloud computing is also increasing skills for Alaska IT professionals. The use of hybrid clouds is common in the modern world and allows professional growth and skill development among the Alaskan workforce. Our IT professionals will continue to manage and maintain our servers; They will also develop a skill set in cloud storage, applications, networking, and management solutions. This is a great opportunity for the future of the cyber community, and if you are looking for an opportunity to join a state-of-the-art team, please view Workplace Alaska for current and future career opportunities.
As we complete 18 months of migration, we are focused on modernizing the state’s infrastructure to provide greater security for individual Alaskan data. Although at times it seems like the transformation can’t happen soon enough, it’s well worth it. Through this far-reaching project, Alaska will see improved security as well as many other benefits in terms of scale, performance, and innovation that come with cloud computing.
Bill Smith He is the chief information officer of the Alaska Department of State’s Office of Information Technology.
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