Q&A: Michigan's journey to cloud engagement

By Kate Spies
08:31 AM
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Michigan is blazing a clear path to the cloud. The state is a leader in engaging with this sort of technology; through the MiCloud Initiative, it’s been providing a private datacenter cloud to service its state and local governments – including, but by no means limited to, public health departments.

Eric Swanson, director of Michigan’s Center for Shared Solutions and Technology Partnerships, steers the goals, preparation, and architecture behind the MiCloud plan. The focus in joining the cloud, he says, centers on cost reduction, scalability, and the ability to self-provision. Indeed, the solution presented by cloud technology is a strong one, Swanson says – though it’s not “something that is magical and mystical” – aligning with this technology demands careful vision and widespread consumer education.

Government Health IT Contributor Kate Spies spoke with Swanson about the state’s journey to joining the cloud, the work and forethought that forged that path, and reasons why Michigan approches MiCloud much like a startup business.

Q: What progress has Michigan made thus far with the cloud model?
A:
Right now we’ve been, in essence, looking at an on-premise cloud solution – and what I mean by ‘on-premise’ is something that is owned, managed and controlled by the state – that has various facets to it, including storage and production. Then, to expand that a little bit, we’ve been looking at how those functions serve our 17 internal state government agencies, and also then looking at how we work, with a heavy emphasis on our local government partners. We have a couple of initiatives; one major initiative with another state – Iowa – that we’re fleshing out as we speak.

Q: How doe the MiCloud Initiative apply specifically to Michigan’s state health department?
A:
How the cloud would apply to any department, whether it’s our community health department, or our department of human services, and even local health departments, is the fact that it’s a utility. The cloud services a utility to any of the business needs of the agency - whether it’s a cloud storage need, or a production need - that any of the lines of business across that health IT spectrum could consume. It’s as simple as that. It’s not that we’re building a cloud initiative to support health period. It’s going to be somewhat special compared to transportation, or environmental needs, for example – but it’s a standardized, consumable service.

Q: What are the specific benefits that Michigan has already been experiencing from engaging with the cloud?
A:
The primary benefits of cloud technology are the elasticity, the scalability, and the automated provisioning. The rest of it is not magic. Most of the things aren’t necessarily magic, but truly being able to self-provision in a very quick environment - ‘self-provisioning’ and ‘elasticity’ meaning if you’re looking at your system and you need an additional eight megs of ram, you’re able to crank that up within an hour’s timeframe - we don’t have that totally done yet. But those are the benefits that we’re really targeting to achieve.

Q: What are some of the challenges that maneuvering onto the cloud poses for the state of Michigan?
A:
Well, a challenge with any new technology is determining what the ultimate market is: what we believe our market share will be. We’re looking at MiCloud as literally no different than a small business start-up.

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Remember that the elasticity piece means we have to have the infrastructure in place at a certain scale that provides for elasticity, but we don’t want to overdo it, or underdo it, so getting that right takes time. The training and education of the consumer base, too: whether it’s state agencies (educating them that ‘no, you don’t have to buy a server anymore, you can just provision out of our environment’) as well as our local and state partners, and some of our vendor partners.

Q: Do you have any final comments about Michigan’s engagement with the cloud?
A:
The cloud technologies, from our standpoint, we don’t see them as something that is magical and mystical, but they do hold great promise in terms of workflow efficiencies - once again, through the self-provisioning and the scalability of the environment. That simply translates into productivity across the multitudes of users.