Aultman decided Microsoft's Windows Azure was the platform he needed. His staff now had the .NET skills they needed, and the platform provided a great deal of ready-made code that he wouldn't have to replicate.
"I did hire some top guns to help me write the core set of services," he says. "The notion was that I would build a set of services on top of the Azure platform. It uses Azure, but it abstracts Azure so that if I needed to move it somewhere else, I could without a wholesale rewrite."
The system has provided a number of benefits, not the least of which is decoupling storage from compute, allowing IT to provision those resources at need rather than building for peak utilization.
Cloud Will Save Florida $1 Million a Year
The cloud-based Voter Registration System has not provided any savings to date, Aultman notes, though that's primarily because he's required to keep the old legacy systems up and running during the transition.
"Next year, I intend to retire the old database," he says. "Our licensing and support costs for that runs us about $1.5 million, not including personnel and contractors. I expect over the next three years, we'll save $1 million a year roughly in just licensing and operations costs."
Perhaps more importantly, the higher degree of automation allows him to run a leaner ship. He notes that he's already down to a headcount of 30 from the 40 people that he started with 17 months ago, and he expects he'll be forced to cut back his staff by another 10% to 15% in the next few years.
"That's significant," he says. "I don't know what next year will bring. Before I got here we lost all our network support and infrastructure support people due to data center consolidation. The consolidation of all our IT services was partly as a result of loss of staff. The whole change to application development and moving to the cloud is an attempt to provide the same level of service with fewer people."
For now, it's working, he says.
"They have really, really come so far in the last year," Aultman says of his staff. "You've got to get the combination right. You can't just go to the cloud. It doesn't make any sense by itself. You've got to do the other things. You've got to think about how you recognize projects, how you implement them, how you plan for their retirement. Our method is to pair people up with people who have different skillsets. We're working on real code reviews, not beating each other up, but more of a training thing. I'm making it something you want to do. You want to have a code review and learn from that. We're putting people in small teams of three, not six, and changing those teams frequently."