The ongoing cloud migration will strengthen and improve Alaska’s IT systems

The Last Frontier has entered a transformational period with several major initiatives to push even further into the digital frontier. In addition to excitement at the state’s coordinated efforts to provide world-class broadband in our great state, the Administration Department’s Office of Information Technology has spent the last two years conducting important and thoughtful groundwork to move the vast majority of the state’s servers and software applications from on-premises data centers to a cloud environment. Leveraging state-of-the-art facilities, these efforts will ensure greater security of our citizens’ data, greater resilience and reliability, and rapidly modernize Alaska’s technical infrastructure.

At the most basic level, cloud computing is the remote delivery of computing services. Instead of relying on a server 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 software-as-a-service applications, and the current major project continues and accelerates efforts to take advantage of cloud computing.

In early 2020, following the decision to modernize, scale, and secure the state’s infrastructure through cloud migration, we partnered with industry leaders to evaluate the best way forward and select a solution compatible with our current environment is. After extensive staff training, we began evaluating individual applications for movement and moving representative servers to evaluate their performance.

As other states have experienced, this “one-to-one” approach, while effective, can be costly and time-consuming when evaluating thousands of state servers and programs. Amid the pandemic response, we recognized the need to further streamline the process and began looking for a faster or less expensive approach that would work well for our computing needs and goals. Earlier this year, the specific tools needed to migrate our systems so quickly were made available in our chosen cloud data centers, setting the stage for the full migration.

The cost of deploying on-premises infrastructure has increased since the beginning of this journey, and the “cloud first” strategy is not about matching current capacities. Instead, it offers a more cost-effective and sustainable vision that upgrades our infrastructure to meet the needs and expectations of our citizens by leveraging cutting-edge technologies beyond our current local capabilities. With the support of the Legislature, we secured funding in the Governor’s budget for 2023, and the large-scale migration project got underway last month. This project is a culmination of the preparation that has been carried out over the past two years. It involves a close partnership with industry leaders and technology experts across all departments in the state.

The migration to cloud-based servers represents an important part of the state’s ongoing work to take full advantage of world-class security capabilities to protect Alaskans’ data, modernize state information technology systems, and significantly improve the state’s resilience to unexpected disruptions.

The evolution of cybersecurity threats requires immense resources to continuously update and protect computer systems. By migrating to the cloud, we can strictly adhere to the latest security standards. Modern cloud providers have tremendous economies of scale, allowing them to quickly adapt to the changing threat and avoid delays in response.

The state will be able to increase storage space and computing power without buying new hardware, provide dynamic disaster recovery by simply locating backups in different locations, and quickly adjust capacity to our actual needs. The inherent flexibility of the cloud means less time replacing costly hardware and more time delivering services.

This is an exciting time to be working in Information Technology for the State of Alaska. An increased focus on cloud computing is also leading to a skill lift for IT professionals in the state of Alaska. The use of hybrid cloud environments is commonplace in the modern world, enabling professional growth and skill development among Alaska State employees. Our IT experts will continue to manage and maintain our servers; You will also develop skills in cloud storage, application, network and management solutions. This is a great opportunity for the future of the cyber community and if you are looking for a way to join a cutting-edge team, please check out Workplace Alaska for current and future career opportunities.

As we complete the next 18 months of migration, we are focused on modernizing the state’s infrastructure to provide even more security for individual Alaskans’ data. While it sometimes seems that transformation can’t happen soon enough, it is well worth it. Through this far-reaching project, the state of Alaska will benefit from improved security, as well as many other scalability, performance, and innovation benefits that come with cloud computing.

Bill Smith is Chief Information Officer in the Office of Information Technology at the Alaska Department of Management.

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