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illustration of circuit board with various technological items in backgroundData centers consolidated to improve efficiency of operations

By Leopoldo R. Vasquez, III

A “best practice” in the world of Information Technology (IT) is the consolidation of technology operations. Consolidation establishes consistency and reliability in service, eliminates the duplication of similar applications, and reduces operational costs

In line with this practice, in 2005, the 79th Texas Legislature passed legislation that authorized the Department of Information Resources (DIR) to consolidate the data
Portrait of Leopoldo R. Vasquez III
Leopoldo R. Vasquez, III
centers of 27 state agencies, targeting those with the largest technology operations, into two (2) statewide data centers. Included in this group are the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Texas Workforce Commission, the Office of the Attorney General and Texas Health and Human Services.

The consolidation of these 30-plus data centers will allow significant improvements in data security and disaster recovery. As the two (2) data centers will operate under one (1) contract, it will also eliminate the need for each of the affected state agencies to have individual contracts, with various terms of service. This consolidation will allow these agencies to pay for services based on actual consumption instead of maintaining unused server capacity or purchasing additional data center equipment to cover “projected” needs.

The DIR began this ominous consolidation process by assessing the costs necessary to support the data centers, such as budget, staff and operational activities. Hundreds of employees from the 27 affected agencies were involved in the process by helping develop a sound contract for the data center and issuing a Request for Offers (RFO). RFO is used for automated information systems that the state intends to acquire through a competitive sealed offer procedure. It allows changes to be made after offers are opened and takes into consideration the nature of the offer and/or price will be negotiated prior to award. An interagency team, consisting of representatives from several of the affected agencies, was established to evaluate the responses received to the RFO and to determine the best value for the state in negotiating the contract’s terms.

On November 22, 2006, based on data provided by the interagency team, DIR signed a contract with IBM to implement the consolidation of the data centers. Services covered by the consolidation include mainframe, server and bulk print/mail operations. IBM will also provide support for all operating system software and third-party software used on these computers. Their responsibilities will include day-to-day processing, maintenance and hardware and software updates. They will also provide disaster recovery services and day-to-day security for the mainframes and servers.

Following consolidation, services maintained by the state agencies include development, support and maintenance of agency applications such as payroll, personnel and offender processing; help desk support; network and desktop computing; and communication and net-work support.

To accommodate the operational needs of the consolidation, the Texas State Data Center in San Angelo will be expanded and a new State Data Center will be established in Austin. At the contract’s commencement date of March 31, 2007, IBM and its partners - Unysis, Pitney Bowes, and Xerox - will begin transitioning agency services and operations to these state data centers, a process that will be take about two years to complete.

This consolidation initially affected about 562 positions within the 27 affected state agencies. However, due to vacancies that occurred during the consolidation process, which were left unfilled, 230 of those positions may be eliminated without individual job loss. IBM and its partners offered the remaining 330 individuals positions within these organizations; all of these offers coming with a 5-10% pay increase and no requirement to relocate to another city or state.

The state’s calculated savings from this consolidation equates to 159 million dollars over the seven-year contract term. The savings alone in the FY 2008-09 biennium are projected at 25 million dollars.

As to the impact of this consolidation on TDCJ, it will be minimal, as the agency had already outsourced its mainframe computers and production servers to the Texas State Data Center in San Angelo in 2002. The additional impact will be limited to service providers taking over administrative control of 202 servers for tests, development and utility services. As for the consolidation’s impact on the employees of TDCJ, outside of the 31 positions that were transferred to IBM and its partners, that too is minimal. In fact, the majority of employees working with computers will not even experience a change or notice a difference in their operations.

The impact of using “best practices” in consolidating data centers may not be noticeable to the public or even the employees of the affected state agencies, but it will be far reaching as it improves the technology operations of Texas government and ultimately benefits the taxpayers of Texas.

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