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Washington's Datacenter Debate: Build vs. Lease

The state of Washington has tentative plans to build a $300 million state-of-the-art datacenter in the capital city of Olympia, but some legislators are questioning the decision to spend so much money when it could save money by using cloud computing services.

Last week, the State Finance Committee approved the sale of $300 million in bonds to fund the construction of a new datacenter for the Department of Information Services. The new center would bring together numerous other smaller datacenters from around the state under one roof. The datacenter itself would be 160,000 square feet, with an equal amount set aside for office space.

Two state legislators sent a letter to Governor Christine Gregoire, asking her to consider other options, namely, outsourcing.

"We are deeply troubled by the weakness of the technical and financial support behind this decision, and fear the state is potentially making a $300 million mistake that will haunt us for decades to come," wrote Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) and Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Everett).

"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," they went on to say.

One of those providers is Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) which offers its fast-growing EC2 cloud computing service.

Dunshee said he objected to the decision before it was approved.

"There were a whole bunch of people who thought it was necessary. We in the legislature, among the techno wonks and some others, had a pretty big discussion on it," he told InternetNews.com

The argument for outsourcing is you have cloud technology available out there, so contract out some of those services and let someone else manage the systems. The argument against it is this stuff is not the same as e-mail.

"There's a bunch of proprietary stuff and confidential stuff. These records are not shopping lists. They are people's medical records and disability records and personnel stuff. Even Microsoft does that stuff on their Redmond campus as opposed to a remote site," said Dunshee.

The pro argument wanted the data on machines where they can get them. But Dunshee said it's very expensive.

"These datacenters are just killing us on cost. Every time the state of Washington builds one of these big datacenters, they change and grow in cost. I would think we could find a contractor who could give us a level of security we wanted," he said.

Carlyle added that the deal right now is being viewed as all or nothing, that there's no partway view of outsourcing a few pieces but not all of it. "I'm not arguing we should … head to the opposite end of where we are, from the state controls everything to outsource it all and walk away," he said.

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