State consolidates servers, security

Ensuring that North Carolina's information technology systems don't succumb to any interruptions, the state government is undertaking data server consolidation to bolster network security as well as save costs, according to its chief information officer.

George Bakolia, who took over the CIO reins this spring, said he's anticipating "significant savings" by reducing the number of servers across the state government by "at a minimum 50 to 60 percent."

"And that really trickles right into network security because of our inability and lack of resources to keep up with the continuous patching of our systems attached to our network," he said. "And then we can also reduce the cost on the maintenance and the procurement processes, so if we can do that, we can shift some of those funds toward the other aspects."

Data server consolidation also helps the state deploy and use IT employees more effectively, he said, noting the shortage of government IT workers nationwide.

Another initiative is creating a security zone architecture for all mission-critical applications related to North Carolina's portal (www.ncgov.com).

"Basically, we've taken the network architecture a step further," Bakolia said. "We have defined levels of security within the network basically within [server] farms — we call it zones — and in there we would house certain applications based on how critical and sensitive they are. We began about eight months ago."

Not unlike other states facing severe or considerable budget crunches, North Carolina has to do more with less. Bakolia, who previously was the N.C. Justice Department's CIO, said the government's IT budget has been reduced by $20 million. That means no new large projects unless the legislature commits funds to them, he said.

"But I really think that if we target areas of efficiencies, we get more than enough to suffice," he said.

Data server consolidation is one of a handful of initiatives Bakolia is spearheading.

He is promoting an effort he started at the state Justice Department that entailed creating a blueprint of applications within legacy systems and translating lines of code into a more modern computer language, such as Java.

"There's other mission-critical entities across state government like transportation, human services and revenue [that] have the same type of problem where they have vintage applications from the '70s that all the citizens of the state are relying on that nobody has even addressed," he said. "We're looking at millions of lines of code, and my research so far has been showing that the agencies are getting lower and lower in their skill expertise to maintain those systems."

Another application he's promoting is a common payment service.

"We're enabling the private sector and state government to do automated transaction handling with credit cards and things like that through a common payment system," Bakolia said. "And that could add significant savings to the state. It's running in production. We put it in place as of probably about a year ago. But we're trying to expand on that."

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