Pella Chronicle

June 21, 2013

Marion County IT system in bad shape

By Steve Woodhouse
The Chronicle

Knoxville — As reported, Marion County intends to hire a full-time Information Technology employee to oversee computer systems. The current state of the County's computer infrastructure is problematic. 

The technology audit which led to the Board of Supervisors' decision to seek an IT employee shows that the County has too many computer service contracts, issues with Internet speed, the lack of facility interconnectivity (computers at the courthouse do not share data with those at the law enforcement center for example), online security and server issues. 

Iowa Counties Information Technology reached these conclusions and labeled these issues and others as critically in need of improvement. The ICIT is a group of Iowa IT development professionals who reviewed the County's IT infrastructure earlier this year and recently released a report. 

Board Chairman Jim Kingery said the first thing the County intends to do to rectify these concerns is to get an IT employee in place. Much of the responsibility for addressing the other issues will befall this person. 

Kingery said that the board intends to utilize the services of ITIC to write the job application and description for the IT position and may assist in the interview process. 

"We'd be silly not to take advantage of their expertise," Kingery said. He hopes to have someone in place within a matter of months.

The County hopes to be more fiscally responsible by leaving the solutions to issues raised to the new IT professional. Kingery said he does not want to spend money on new technology if it is not the best solution for the County. 

He hopes to involve as many department heads in the search for the IT person as possible. He values their input.

"We've had great support so far," Kingery said. 

One issue identified in the ITIC report is "generic" expenditure descriptions they discovered when trying to calculate what the County spends on IT each year. Kingery said improved labeling and greater accountability when filing expenditures will be included in the County's IT improvements. To the best of the ICIT's calculations, the County spent $490,681.29 in FY 10-11, $429,361.14 in FY 11-12 and $324,658 in the current fiscal year, through the time of the ICIT visit. 

The ICIT estimates that the cost of a new IT employee could be between $65,118 and $71,158 annually, depending on the insurance plan provided. 

"In the long run, it will pay for itself," Kingery said. "I think we have 18 people serving the County now. By doing this, we're going to prevent a catastrophe sometime." 

With all of the solutions to the concerns raised befalling the IT employee, Kingery said it is important to find the right person, someone who also gets along well with others and to have someone in place before something goes wrong. 

Issues cited as critical:

• IT staffing

• Server Host Redundancy ("The County's existing virtual environment is comprised of a single host serve, as well as the LEC. This configuration exposes the County to a high risk of data loss and downtime. In the event of a critical failure, users would be unable to access network resources or data.") The ICIT recommended purchasing five servers (two for the courthouse, two for the LEC, one for Public Health). Estimated cost is $7,000 each or $35,000 total.

• Server Host Storage ("On the Host Server, the hard drive configuration for the operating system is utilizing a single hard drive. In the event this hard drive fails, the entire virtual environment would be inaccessible. This creates a single point of failure capable of causing extensive downtime in all departments.")

• Facility Interconnectivity (Not all County facilities are interconnected for data and resource sharing. This creates a number of issues when trying to consolidate expenditures and centralize the management of IT resources. The isolated nature of these facilities eliminates the ability to share data and infrastructure between these locations and creates a need to purchase redundant equipment.")

• User Accounts ("Passwords are set to never expire on a number of accounts. Inactive accounts not disabled or deleted. Generic usernames are being used and shared between users.")

• Public Health server ("Public Health has an HP Generation 1 server. This is out of warranty and end of life. This server is the DC and file share for the Public Health Department. This server needs replaced.")

• Host Server Location ("The location of the physical host server and related equipment is not sufficient. Climate and exposure to possible physical damage contribute to the need for a more suitable area for server assets.")

• Backup ("The existing backups are either not working at all or are very inconsistent. Currently you are backing up to tape, which is a very antiquated technology and not reliable at all.")

• Disaster Recovery ("In the event of a hardware failure on the Host Server, or a critical software failure on one of the virtual servers, the expected downtime for a full restore is extensive.")

• Firewall/Switches