The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 29, 2012

New IT equipment should save county funds in future

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  

Two new servers that handle the bulk of the county’s information technology needs should be in place by the first of the year, said Auditor Roger Corlett.

Commissioners last week approved the $200,000 appropriation for the equipment, which is expected to save the county money in energy consumption, maintenance, software licensing and manpower for years to come.

“I think it’s going to help us keep our costs down,” said Corlett, who is a member of the county’s data board.

The board also includes representation from the commissioners, prosecutor’s office, clerk of courts, board of elections, treasurer, recorder, sheriff and county engineer. Most of those offices and several others depend upon the county’s servers for their information technology needs. The sheriff’s department and 9-1-1 have their own set of servers to handle their unique data needs. The courts also have their own system, which was purchased using their special projects funds.

Corlett said there are more than 20 servers, plus associated routers, switchers and other devices serving the balance of the county’s offices. Two or three years down the road, all of that will be replaced by the two new servers that are on order.

The reduction in hardware is made possible by “virtualization” technology, which creates a number of virtual servers on one physical server. The two servers will operate in tandem to make sure there is no interruption in service in the event one of them experiences a problem.

The new system also includes a much more sophisticated real-time backup of the servers than the current tape-based process. Corlett said the tapes must be transported to a bank vault by an employee every day.

“This is going to help us with our disaster recovery plan,” Corlett said. “Our auditors always want us to keep coming up with a better plan.”

Cost savings will be realized on a number of levels. Less electricity will be consumed and, accordingly, less heat will be dissipated into the room where the servers are located. That will decrease the air conditioning costs.

With less equipment to maintain, the county eventually may not require a contract with an outside information technology provider. Commissioners eliminated the county’s IT department during the budget crisis and hired Suite 224 to provide that service. The auditor’s office has 1.5 positions that are dedicated to providing IT services to its department and others, Corlett said.

Virtualization also has the potential of saving the cost of licensing multiple copies of the same software. Corlett envisions a time when “cloud” computing will allow the county to eliminate the familar “computer box” from every employee’s desk because that processing will be done by a remote server. 

He said there should not be any interruption of service to the various departments as the servers are slowly migrated to the new equipment.

The cost of the project will come out of the general fund. Commissioner Daniel Claypool, who serves on the data board, said the board will pull the money from various sources at the end of the year. Possible sources include unclaimed funds and the casino revenue being shared by all Ohio counties.

Claypool said the commissioners needed to move on the purchase now.

“We got some real seriousi problems with our network here in the county,” he said. “And we want to get rolling on our website update.” 

Corlett said the county is purchasing most of the equipment through the state purchasing plan, and therefore no competitive bidding is required. He said the price of the servers alone is about half that of what Dell would charge a private user without the state purchasing plan.

Although the courts, 9-1-1 and sheriff have separate systems, Corlett said the long-term plan is to at least link the county’s main servers to those. 

“There will be enough room to put all of the county on this system,” he said.