The state's new data center: wait just a minute!

Two legislators think the state is about to make a $300 million mistake, and hope to kick its IT programs into the modern age

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a valuable provocateur and freshman Democrat from Queen Anne, has gone public with his criticism of state plans to build a $300 million new data center in Olympia. In a letter to Gov. Gregoire, Carlyle and Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-44) urge the Governor to seek a second opinion before selling the construction bonds. They want her to take a hard look at shifting from "hardware-centric, expensive, proprietary silos of data trapped in old databases" to newer technologies such as the cloud.

On his blog, Carlyle calls the Department of Information Services' decision to build a new data center in Olympia a few blocks from the Capitol Campus "shocking in its lack of quality research, new data, national context, or insight into technology trends." He sees the decision more a reflection of Olympia interests in the construction project and jobs, and an "excuse for a long-term jobs program for the IT bureaucracy."

Instead, Carlyle and Dunshee say money could be saved by utilizing cloud services from providers such as Amazon, Google, or Microsoft; or using one of the commercial data centers located throughout the state; or building a state-owned data center somewhere other than Olympia, to save money on land, energy, and labor costs.

The two legislators also charge that the decision was not properly reviewed by the Information Services Board, which oversees DIS. "The lack of an independent, quality, detailed, technically-oriented business case is deeply troubling," they write.

More than the cost issue is a growing interest in how modern technology can produce more transparency in government, something President Obama in particular has pushed for. That means shifting to "open, transparent, flexible, accessible, customer-oriented applications available via the Internet." As more technology-savvy legislators like Carlyle, a new-economy entrepreneur, find their way to Olympia this pressure will increase — assuming the horse is not already out of the barn. They put the broader case this way in their July 20 letter to Gregoire:

Public sector IT experts predict that within just a few years up to 50% of government agencies nationwide will outsource most data to the cloud. Washington is home to many of the leading providers of this rapidly evolving commodity service, where improved security, disaster recovery, and lower costs are being driven by almost universal adoption by both the public and private sectors. Still, our own state government has yet to move in this direction in any material way.

Well, yes. But there are also growing anxieties about the shift to the cloud. These concerns involve privacy, security, unauthorized uses, and a loss of freedom to innovate. And as for the call to avoid the high costs of building in Olympia, that raises old hackles about Seattle's and other cities' frequent desire to raid away jobs from a city that is now very much a Company Town.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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