New Bexar County Data Center Represents Tech, Security Upgrade

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Jackie Wang / Rivard Report

Ten cabinets in the new data center, housed in the regional operations building of Bexar Metro 911, hold the servers that run Bexar County’s operations.

In Northwest San Antonio, behind multiple layers of security requiring badges, fingerprints, and keypad codes, 10 cabinets hold the servers that run Bexar County’s operations.

Bexar County opened its new data center, housed in the regional operations building of Bexar Metro 911, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. The data center is the heart of Bexar County computer systems, hosting data for agencies such as the Human Resources department and the Bexar County Jail.

The county has downsized its original data operations from 36 cabinets of equipment to 10, a move made possible by new technology, said Evan O’Mahoney, chief technology officer of Bexar County Information Technology (BCIT).

“It’s much more resilient, reliable, secure, and provides a strong foundation for Bexar County to provide all of the services to all citizens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” O’Mahoney said.

Before opening the new data center, the county’s system was housed in one place, and had backup equipment that simply saved the data without a way to access it, BCIT Chief Information Officer Mark Gager said.

“You can summarize the project objective in one way: We had one data center that was a single point of failure with aging equipment,” Gager said. “The idea was the modernize … so that we could ensure continuity of government.”

More than 60 percent of the county’s workload now lives on a cloud-based platform, which frees up physical space on servers and cuts down on cost. The IT department also designed multiple layers of backups to kick in if a piece of equipment fails. There is more backup equipment housed at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Brooks, O’Mahoney said.

“In our new data center, we have two of everything,” he said. “When somebody goes to launch a program on their computer, all that traffic goes back to our data center. And there’s equipment that routes it to the right place. So if one piece fails it automatically routes to the second piece.

Reducing the number of server cabinets and adopting a cloud-first approach saved the county about $12 million in capital costs, O’Mahoney told county commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.

The new Bexar County Data Center also boasts new security measures, Gager explained. Some appliances are dedicated to monitoring the IP addresses of incoming information. If the security system detects a foreign IP address, it will not accept the file. If a Bexar County device tries to access an unknown website, the user is blocked.

“We don’t just have one security tool,” Gager said. “We have multiple security tools.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the new security measures gave the County peace of mind, pointing to other government entities’ struggles with hackers, including the ransomware attack that hit the City of Atlanta in March 2018, with hackers demanding $51,000 in bitcoin to release the city’s data. Atlanta spent $2.7 million immediately after the attack in emergency contracts to restore the municipal computer system, but a city official estimated later that year that an additional $9.5 million would be needed. Baltimore, the Georgia court systems, and Lake City, Florida, also have been hit with ransomware attacks this summer.

“Every day, [Bexar County residents] pick up the paper and read about some city that’s got in trouble,” Wolff said. “This gives us greater security than can possibly be done with a system.”

Wolff also praised the IT department for its speedy work in revamping the county’s data systems.

“You might say before Mark got here, we were kind of in the Dark Ages,” Wolff said. “We had [36] cabinets of servers, in a dated building with wires running everywhere. Not the best security, not the best network by far. The commissioners court said in 2016 we wanted to use the cloud more, we wanted a more secure system, a more reliable system. We thought it would take four years, but it was accomplished in two and a half.”

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