Hawaii’s IT agency has been asking for funding to move but some state officials think it’s better to wait years for a new proposed tech center to be built.

As state officials describe it, some of Hawaii’s most sensitive data is far from secure. Stored in a flood-prone basement of an aging government office building near the State Capitol, the state’s data center is vulnerable to constant attack by hackers and could be wiped out by a major disaster, they say.

So what do state officials plan to do to remedy the problem? The short answer: Nobody knows. 

“We are committed to conducting thorough due diligence as we explore various alternatives for relocating our data canter and preserving our critical IT infrastructure,” Hawaii’s Comptroller, Keith Regan, said in a text message. “Our objective is to identify a suitable location that not only fulfills the current requirements of our IT operations but also anticipates and accommodates future needs and ensures resiliency.”

Nagasaki Bell Kalanimoku state office building government
State officials say the Hawaii Office of Enterprise Technology Services’ data center, located in the basement of the state Kalanimoku Building on Punchbowl Street, is vulnerable to flooding and cyber attacks. But there appears to be no clear “Plan B” after Gov. Josh Green rejected a proposal to move the data center to a proposed but not yet built tech center in Mililani. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Regan’s comments come as Gov. Josh Green has ruled out a suggestion to move the data center to a proposed, sprawling campus for public safety workers that Hawaii Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz wants the state to build on undeveloped agriculture land in his district. 

That project seemed dead earlier this year after a bill to steer $100 million for campus infrastructure stalled in the House of Representatives during the legislative session.

Dela Cruz, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, sought to revive the project by slipping $50 million for it into the state budget through a secretive “legislative adjustment” done without public hearings. Green responded by cutting the $50 million through a line-item veto earlier this month because it was put in without public input or hearings.

That leaves the state’s IT department – known as the Office of Enterprise Technology Services – in a building that its chief, Douglas Murdock, says is inadequate.

Asked why the ETS office hasn’t acted to secure the state’s data sooner, ETS office spokesman James Gonser said the office has done so by transferring about 70% of the data to servers located out of state. 

But Gonser said there’s still sensitive data that must be kept in Hawaii, including things like criminal justice information and tax data. That data is still located in the basement data center.

And as state officials describe it, that data is highly vulnerable.

Senator: Hawaii Is A ‘Target For Disaster’

“The safety of our community is under siege every day. Threats from natural disaster, rogue nations, global viruses, or cybersecurity are real,” Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, said in a recent news release supporting the new facility in Mililani. “Failing to invest in our weaknesses makes Hawai‘i a target for disaster.” 

The release also quoted Murdock.

“The State of Hawai‘i Executive Branch Departments need a consolidated secure data center that meets all of the requirements of a modern technology facility that better protects state information from data loss and cyber attacks,” said Murdock, the state’s chief information officer. “The aging facilities in the Kalanimōkū building and other state buildings no longer meets those requirements.” 

The Senate this past session passed a bill that would have decommissioned the aging Kalanimoku data center and relocated it to an interim facility, but the measure stalled in the House.

Gonser said in an email that the office has repeatedly asked the Legislature for funding to move to another location, to no avail. Murdock did not respond to requests for comment.

Kapolei State Office Building
The Kapolei State Office Building’s property encompasses 7.5 acres in Kapolei and could be adapted to house a data center, says the president of the James Campbell Co., Kapolei’s major landowner.

It’s clear that the Mililani site isn’t the only viable place for the data center.

“ETS does not need that Mililani facility to have a safe data center,” Gonser said. “They could move us into an office that’s somewhere else.”

Christine Camp, a Honolulu real estate broker and developer, said the Mililani site makes sense for a numbers of reasons but that other sites could work as well.

Even though the Mililani site is undeveloped, it’s located next to the existing Mililani Technology Park, which does have infrastructure. The first responders campus could connect to that when building out its own roads and networks. Plus, Camp said, the site is outside Honolulu’s tsunami inundation zone. Finally, the land is already owned by the state.

But Camp said there is other state-owned land outside the flood zone with infrastructure already in place. Property around Fort Ruger on the slopes of Diamond Head could be an option, she said. Likewise the University of Hawaii owns hundreds of acres in West Oahu.

Steve Kelly plays a pivotal role in the development of the city of Kapolei as president of Aina Nui Corp., the James Campbell Co.’s Kapolei Properties Division. Kelly said government offices are part of the vision for Kapolei, and the state and city already have offices there. 

In addition to vacant land next to the state’s judiciary complex, Kelly said, the Kapolei State Office Building’s property encompasses about 7.5 acres, most of which is a surface parking lot. It would be relatively easy, he said, to build a parking structure for cars and put a data center on the property, which already had roads and other necessary infrastructure.

“It’s certainly something we would support,” he said.

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