In Summit County, Ohio’s fourth most populous county, their Board of Elections entire network infrastructure is managed by a team of just two full-time IT professionals. With an aging server infrastructure and a heavily scrutinized Presidential election fast approaching, this IT dynamic duo needed to modernize their systems, comply with strict new security directives, and do so in an expedited time-frame.
THE IT CHALLENGE: DOING MORE WITH LESS
Every U.S. Presidential election is a landmark event. But few election have been as closely watched and analyzed as the 2020 elections -- especially in the perennial battleground state of Ohio. With an outdated infrastructure sorely in need of updating, Summit County’s Board of Elections’ two IT leaders, Kevin Moreland and Wayne Darlington, were tasked with identifying and deploying new infrastructure technology ahead of the November election.
Moreland describes their charter as follows: “we’re responsible for administering clear, transparent and sound elections. Our job is to ensure that all of the technical aspects of an election run smoothly – from programming the ballots to keeping accurate voting records to ensuring that we have assigned them to the proper precinct so voters receive the right ballot.”
Of the many technology mandates they needed to abide by, security was by far the most pressing. Because their infrastructure supported an array of applications – from voter registration databases to tabulation systems and ballot scanners – the new security directive established following the 2016 election stipulated that certain systems be segregated and isolated from the others.
Time, or the lack of it, was another major concern. As Darlington recalls, “We also were very much in a serious time crunch as the Secretary of State's office gave us just seven months to go from, ‘here's the directive which you have to execute to one hundred percent. And, oh yeah, in between that, you guys still have your November general election’.
Further complicating their efforts, all 88 counties in Ohio are governed by their own rules which operate independent of one another. Accordingly, all Ohio counties would need to be compliant but it was up to each one to figure out how to meet these requirements. Says Darlington, “this was both a challenge and an opportunity as it essentially gave us a blank slate from which to imagine and design a new infrastructure environment that would not only meet our immediate needs but would be flexible enough to accommodate our future requirements as well.”
Beyond the many technical and operational considerations, there were also budgetary constraints. Says Moreland, “we consulted with several vendors and the dollars just kept adding up and in the government sector, dollars aren’t always easy to come by.”
THE APPROACH: MOVE FAST, BE SMART
Recognizing that there was no time to waste, the two IT pros set out on the hunt for a new solution that would address their various technology, security, and governance requirements. They learned about Scale from a neighboring regional emergency dispatch center that had recently upgraded their own systems, and after watching some videos about the HC3 solution, they were cautiously optimistic that they had found their solution.
However, convincing a budget-strapped and risk averse Board of Elections to invest in a new and unproven technology stack represented another hurdle. Fortunately, Moreland and Darlington had built up enough goodwill over the past decade that they were able to secure budget to begin proving out the concept.
To meet the many requirements set out in CISA’s Security Directive, the two appreciated that the Scale system made it easy for them to segment and isolate designated critical systems such as the County’s voter registration database. To maximize the efficiency of the new system, they also understood that virtualization would play a key role in maximizing their system resources.
As Moreland notes, “We went from an environment where we had about seven physical servers to a three node cluster. From that three node cluster, then we can spin up as many virtual servers as warranted by demand – this not only simplified our operational workload but it also dramatically shrunk our eco-footprint.”
THE RESULTS: “A FLAWLESS ELECTION”
While Darlington and Moreland devote the majority of their time to managing IT projects throughout the year, during peak times leading up to elections they also must oversee the hundreds of part-time contractors. “During these times, you simply can’t focus on the IT infrastructure itself which is why it was so important that we have a system that could be fault-tolerant and essentially run itself,” says Darlington.
Morehouse adds that, “in our older environment it would have been almost impossible to do what we do now. After just a couple of conversations, we segmented out a portion of the network that was totally isolated from everything else, spun up a new server, cloned the drive, and mounted it to the server and boom, within a couple of hours our solution would be in compliance.”
Scale’s ability to automatically snapshot and backup their systems to a remote cluster has also provided a critical layer of redundancy that provides them with some much needed peace of mind. Darlington notes, “that was one of the key advantages of the Scale system. Previously, If we had to restore our old system from a complete failure, we probably would be down for days. Now we can restore our systems in a matter of hours, or in some cases, minutes.”
Most of all though, this two-man team appreciates the availability of Scale’s support team and their ability to quickly speak live with a highly trained expert when they encounter an issue. “When we start diving into technologies like virtualization where we don’t have VMWare experts on hand, we’d just be throwing money at consultants until it got fixed. At the end of the day, our new Scale-enabled infrastructure played a major role in helping Summit County execute a flawless election,” says Moreland.