Sandefjord Municipality:
An IT Pioneer Among Norwegian Municipalities

With Cisco solutions and technical assistance provided by Conscia, the Sandefjord Municipality went from putting out fires on outdated IT equipment to becoming a pioneer in digitization among Norwegian municipalities.

In 2017, the Sandefjord, Stokke, and Andebu Municipalities were merged into a “new” Sandefjord Municipality, and the same year, Sondre Andersen was hired as the new IT chief for the municipality. The work of consolidating three data centers and three IT departments began.

Downtime and firefighting

The municipality’s IT solution was characterized by a lot of downtime. The administration of the various solutions in three locations was time-consuming and characterized by silos, they lacked monitoring, and the physical IT infrastructure was old and outdated. In short, they had fallen behind, so a major effort was needed to bring the municipality’s IT solutions up to a secure, user-friendly, and modern level.

Image: Sondre Andersen, IT Chief at the Sandefjord Municipality
Sondre Andersen, IT Chief at the Sandefjord Municipality.

“A survey was conducted, and the result showed that of what we already had in place, there was one good thing and that was the people in the organization. The rest had major deficiencies,” said Sondre Andersen, IT Chief at the Sandefjord Municipality.

The municipality wanted to go from troubleshooting and firefighting to being proactive in how they operated IT while also ensuring a high level of IT security, as Sondre Andersen explains:

“Everyone talks about the digital foundation, and we had a very poor digital foundation. So there’s no point in having grand ambitions for digitization when the basics are not in place.”

Responsibility and budgets

One of the challenges was getting the municipal leadership and politicians to accept the fact that nothing lasts forever. To provide good digital services to employees and residents, the IT department must receive funds for annual investments for the tactical replacement of equipment.

The mentality of the municipal leadership and politicians eventually shifted towards ICT being responsible for everything that happens, from the network being plugged into the wall to all the equipment reached on the other side, with matching budgets to replace equipment and ensure that everything works.

“When I saw the first presentation of Cisco’s solutions and understood what this was, I was captivated! I realized that this was the way to achieve a higher degree of automation and security and to build a solid digital foundation,” Sondre Andersen, IT Chief at the Sandefjord Municipality.

Let the employees get bored!

The Sandefjord Municipality aims to be a pioneer among Norwegian municipalities in digitization. They, therefore, wanted their new data center solution to be software-defined, with easy administration of all infrastructure. The infrastructure was to be located in two physical locations for full redundancy, ensuring maximum availability and uptime. They also wanted to automate and digitize as much as possible to reduce manual work, streamline, and save costs.

“My goal was for the IT employees to have time to “get bored” – that is, they should be proactive and anticipate any potential problems and have time to spend on development, not troubleshooting and firefighting.”

Why Cisco?

The solutions chosen were a Cisco ACI network and a Cisco Hyperflex hyperconverged data center with Software Defined Access (SDA) for easy provisioning of new network devices.

“When I first saw the presentation of Cisco’s solutions and understood what this was, I was captivated! I realized that this was the way to achieve a higher degree of automation and security and to build a solid digital foundation,” said Sondre Andersen, before continuing: “It should be said that the PowerPoint presentation does not always match reality. Implementing the solution is often more complicated and expensive than what’s presented in PowerPoint. The implementation was initially a miniature hell, time-consuming and costly – causing a delay on the roll-out SDA locations.”

Then Conscia entered the scene

Conscia entered the collaboration early in 2020.

“We hired you previously when we needed specialized expertise in Cisco and were glad you won our tender. When Conscia entered the scene, things started moving forward. The implementation we had done before was probably too complex. Conscia simplified it, and with a little ansible scripting and automation on top, it really started to roll,” said Andersen.

Conscia worked closely with the Sandefjord Municipality IT team throughout all stages of procurement, from design to implementation and production. It was also essential to ensure proper training for the municipality’s employees so that the handover of the new solutions went smoothly. As a result, the SDA rollout is now being carried out with quality from end to end, with total replacement of old cables, certification of new cables, coverage measurements, and a proper handover.

Sondre Andersen further describes:

“I now have two employees, who on a full-time basis, are rolling out SDA. They are now, as the most natural thing in the world, talking about implementing 100% SDA at 5 schools, that it’s a “piece of cake,” and it’s fun! That was not the case initially when it was a crazy project to roll out SDA in one location. Now it’s so easy that even I can provision a school on SDA – just plug in the network and power cables, and it will be auto-provisioned. So we have excellent automation!”

Monitoring allows it to stay ahead

In addition to a stable and secure IT infrastructure, the Sandefjord Municipality has implemented monitoring systems that allow the IT department to stay ahead and see when users experience a problem and what is causing it.

“It has cost a bit, but it has also given tremendous results. It has been 3-4 years since we last experienced the type of downtime we had previously, and we are now always ahead and monitoring when, for example, disks are about to be filled – before they do. Now that we have automation in place and we see that it works, I think that the setup we have in Sandefjord is probably one of the finest data center solutions in Norway, maybe even the Nordics,” said Sondre Andersen proudly.

He further says:

“We are now building DevOps, we have developers in place, and we have started playing with Ansible. Our cooperation with Conscia has been very fun. The Conscia consultants we have been allocated cooperate very well with my employees, and we will continue to do more of this. Today, the Sandefjord Municipality is a leader in IT in the public sector.”

Good integrations

Sandefjord municipality has gone “all in” on Cisco. They see that having all IT solutions from one manufacturer makes it easier to operate and provides greater visibility, as the various solutions are partly integrated and share information and data. “We hope that Cisco will become even better at integrating the various solutions so that we ultimately have only one console to deal with, and we believe that is the path they will take,” says Andersen.

About the future

The municipality wants to continue its journey towards even more automation and proactivity, so the next project is to get even more monitoring – complete insight from the cloud and all the way to the individual user, further into the data room, and inside the code of each individual application.

“On the monitoring side, we currently have MS System Center Operations Manager, but we plan to go all in on Cisco. With the Cisco licenses we have today, we can use ThousandEyes to monitor user experiences for cloud applications, such as M365, etc. In addition, the plan is to use Cisco Intersight to monitor the servers. Finally, we aim to get AppDynamics on our core infrastructure and specialist systems. Then we will have a monitoring setup that is the best you can get, and we will have done as good a job as possible within ICT,” says Sondre Andersen. In addition, the municipality wants to continue its journey towards Zero Trust on the security side, where Conscia has also been a significant contributor.

“We have worked very well with the basic principles of NSM for many years, and we believe we work so well with these that we have taken it a step further and dared to move towards Zero Trust. We will now use Cisco Duo for multifactor authentication and Cisco ACI for segmentation,” Sondre Andersen concludes.

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