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Nobles County's data center nearly complete

Information Technology department moves into new space; servers will be moved within the next few months.

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Nobles County Information Technology Director Angelo Torres (left) is joined by County Administrator Tom Johnson and IT Help Desk staff Richard Sidebottom. (Julie Buntjer/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Four years after the initial idea was presented to transform the former county jail space in the Nobles County Government Center into a regional data hub, the project is nearly complete.

The county’s Information Technology staff moved their cubicles and workspaces into the newly renovated area Feb. 12, going from a small 550-square-foot office for four people into a space nearly three times that, with two extra work stations for potential future growth.

“We believe we can serve virtually all of southwest Minnesota,” said County Administrator Tom Johnson of the data center, which has been marketed to governmental entities throughout southwest Minnesota, from counties and municipalities to school districts.

Angelo Torres, the county’s IT director, said it will realistically be three months before the county is able to begin hosting servers for other entities. In that time, the plan is to get the county’s servers moved upstairs and into the dedicated data center space just down the hall from the IT offices.

“We’re trying to minimize the disruption,” Torres said. “It has to be a coordinated effort.”

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Johnson added that moving the server will require at least a two-hour shutdown of the county’s computer system and, optimistically, a solid day to get everything moved and hooked up again.

Once everything is in place, Torres said the ability to begin providing data storage for others will be available.

“Because the project conception started four years ago, we’ve had conversations with so many people already,” Torres said. “Some of them decided to do their own thing, and some we’ve had close partnerships with are already here — SMOC (Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council), Worthington Public Utilities, the city of Worthington and the (Nobles County) Historical Society."

At this time, the county is looking only to serve other governmental entities, though it knows there’s a need for data storage in the private sector as well.

Torres said the county is a member in IT services such as ListServe, and there are ongoing conversations daily among those groups about data storage. He said companies from as far away as Tennessee and North Carolina are looking for data storage, and the county could meet their needs.

“There’s endless possibilities,” Johnson said.

“It just depends what we want to take on,” Torres added.

Since the county is taxpayer-funded, Johnson said it does matter who it provides services to through the data center.

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“We have to have some guarantee that this isn’t costing taxpayers,” he said.

“We’re also riding on the state’s network,” Torres added. “I don’t know if we could serve for-profit businesses.”

Torres said the data center could be self-funded if enough governmental entities choose to house their servers in the county’s data center. That could result in a cost savings to all county taxpayers.

Each server rack will have its own air-conditioning unit, with the building AC providing backup if needed. There will also be redundancies with fiber, Johnson noted.

Once the data center has enough customers, Johnson said he would support the county’s hiring of a network administrator whose job would be to focus solely on the data center. The IT department serves the county’s 180 employees in four buildings, in addition to providing services to Worthington Public Utilities.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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