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GCN : February 2014
GCN FEBRUARY 2014 • GCN.COM 23 1WHEN TO MAKE THE MOVE? Even with the cloud dead ahead, it s still not a move to make without con- siderable forethought. There are pros and cons that have to be weighed, issues worked through and a need for a firm un- derstanding of what the timeline of any investment will be. It s a process. If you have a relatively new data center and excess capacity, it probably doesn t make sense to go to the cloud, at least not yet. And if you have a number of existing, working data centers, there are steps you will need to take to get the most out of that investment first. "There are two things that should come before cloud," said Alan Shark, executive director and chief executive of the Public Technology Institute (PTI). "Cities first have to ask if they need all of the data centers and servers they have, and so should consolidate. Then comes virtual- ization, which prolongs the life of current data centers." Virtualization uses software to split a single physical server into myriad virtual servers, each of which acts as a separate system. Shark said he "doesn t see much movement yet to replace mainframes by the cloud." After resolving the data center issue, you should look at migration strategies for services destined for the cloud. Secu- rity should be front and center, and if the cloud service will handle payments, pay- ment card industry data compliance will also have to be considered. Most of the concerns cities have about the cloud relates to control of the IT sys- tems they use, Woods said, which come from the cities sense of responsibility for the services they offer. So issues of gov- ernance, security and accountability play an important part in the early caution many cities have about going to the cloud. Because of those concerns, not all ser- vices may go to the cloud. But, once you work through the process of deciding what s appropriate to migrate, the cost and flexibility advantages of the cloud mean many services will make the move. 2PICK THE LOW-HANGING FRUIT There are some cloud-based services that are simply no brainers, where the down- side risk is negligible. Email, for example. Maintaining email servers is both expensive and time con- suming, and commercial providers simply do it far better, more securely and more cost effectively. Washington, D.C., Or- lando, Fla., and Los Angeles were, some years ago, early adopters of Google Apps and its cloud-hosted email. Now, many organizations are looking beyond email to such services as Micro- soft s cloud-based Office 365. If cit- ies are setting up new offices anywhere, then using the cloud to provide IT services is an obvi- ous route to take, Woods said. The cloud is also a particularly good choice for providing any extra capac- ity that s needed for compute resources or storage, where the only other option would be for cities to buy racks of servers or drives, something that s increasingly difficult with current budget constraints. "Video and the massive amounts of storage needed for that kind of data will become a big issue," Shark said. "There s also a need for off-site storage for disas- ter recovery and archives of years worth of email and other data that may have to be retrieved in the case of e-discovery re- quests by lawyers." Even if you still have lingering doubts about using cloud-based services it s impossible these days to have a strict- ly black-and-white view of the issues. There s plenty of low-hanging fruit that any city can easily take advantage of. 3BUY OR BUILD YOUR OWN? It s a good question to ask yourself, because building your own private cloud solutions will answer many of the early concerns you may have. Governance, se- curity and accountability will be all more certain when cloud services are contained within a border you can control. Well, yes --- and no. Private clouds pro- mote certainty, but they may not offer the kinds of advanced solutions that us- ers and citizens are starting to demand. Commercial cloud providers have proven far more nimble when it comes to that. "We are a seeing cities going down multiple paths," said Karen Parrish, vice president, public sector industry solutions at IBM. "They ll go for private clouds, because of issues around secure data and compliance, and also for scalability testing [of cloud applications]." But when they want to analyze information they gather about how their cities operate, or when they want to share information with citizens through alerts and notifications on mobile devices, that s when they ll make greater use of public cloud capabilities, she said. The city of Palo Alto has had its own private cloud solution for more than 10 years, before the cloud was known as the cloud, and that s been a very successful endeavor. The city s permitting system was one of the first services to be pro- visioned in the cloud, and the city "has never had to deal with hardware issues or