How Cities and Towns Can Benefit from the Cloud
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
Are you on the hunt for efficiencies? Are you faced with an aging IT infrastructure and wondering if it’s even keeping your private data safe anymore? Are you concerned that an upgrade will be too much for your already tight budget? Perhaps it’s time to consider if the cloud is right for you. One of the biggest drivers of moving to the cloud is saving money, along with ease of managing applications.
Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Let’s look a little closer at the three different types of cloud services, since the first step is evaluating your infrastructure and assessing what you have and what can be moved. Not all of your technology may be able to move to the cloud.
Software-as-a-Service: This is where you subscribe to a service, but do not manage any of the underlying digital infrastructure. Examples include Microsoft Office 365 and Netflix.
Platform-as-a-Service: This would be one of your customized applications that is supported by the cloud provider. The cloud provider would move your database to their data center and manage all of the maintenance, backups of that specific database and more. An example of this would be the FireHouse Cloud program.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service: This type of service gives you complete control of your environment in the Cloud. All of your computing power, storage, networks, etc. will be hosted in the Cloud, and you or your IT administrator will have control on how your Cloud infrastructure will be managed.
Top Benefits of Moving to the Cloud
Never Upgrade Your Cloud Systems Again. If your computer network is in desperate need of an upgrade and you hate the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars on hardware, software, and technical support to install the new network, then Cloud computing could be the right fit for you. In addition, you may be able to extend the life of your current office PCs since most of your computing resources are powered in the Cloud.
Lower IT Costs. This is probably the single most compelling reason why municipalities choose to move their network (all or in part) to the Cloud. You save money not only on software licenses, but also on hardware (servers and workstations), as well as IT support and upgrades. While municipalities usually face large capital expenses, Cloud computing will now be an operational expense that you can budget on. Additionally, you will only need to pay for exactly what you need and are using. You can add space, storage, or licenses as you need them, and also remove them.
Access Your Desktop and/or Applications from Anywhere and Any Device. Employees can have the ability to access programs and files via the web, and this will require some change in how employees traditionally have worked. After moving to the Cloud, some may not realize all they need to use their email, calendar, or access files is an Internet connection and web browser. Once it clicks, the productivity door swings wide open. Time and place become a thing of the past.
Improved Disaster Recovery and Backup. Most people recognize the importance of putting disaster preparedness and disaster recovery plans into place. But the reality has been that the costs associated with such plans have been too high for budget-constrained municipalities. Now cities and towns can leverage Cloud technologies to implement improved disaster preparedness and planning at a fraction of the cost of earlier solutions.
It’s Faster, Cheaper and Easier to Set Up New Employees. If you have a seasonal workforce or a lot of employee turnover, Cloud computing will not only lower your costs of setting up new accounts, but it will make it infinitely faster.
Use It Without Having to “Own” It. More specifically, you don’t own the responsibility of having to install, update and maintain the infrastructure. When you move to the Cloud you essentially shift this risk and responsibility to the service provider. And since you will not have to worry about maintaining your technology, you will be free to get back to focusing on your operations and serving the public.
“Greener” Technology That Will Save on Power and Your Electric Bill. For some smaller towns, the power savings will be too small to measure. However, for larger towns and/or cities with multiple servers who are cooling a hot server room and keep their servers running 24/7/365, the savings are considerable.
Some Disadvantages To Watch Out For
The Internet Going Down: A natural concern is that if the Internet goes down, you won’t be able to work. You can definitely mitigate this risk by using a commercial-grade Internet connection and maintaining a second backup connection, or you can work from home if there is Internet connectivity there.
Data Security. Many people don’t feel comfortable having their data in some off-site location. This is a valid concern, and before you choose any Cloud provider, you need to ask them questions like where they are storing your data, how it’s encrypted, who has access, and how you can get it back. You may find that the Cloud provider offers better security than you are already using. Additionally, Microsoft offers a Government Cloud with a higher level of security that you may want to look in to as well.
Compliance Issues. There are a number of laws and regulations, such as Gramm-Leach-Bliley, Sarbanes-Oxley, and HIPAA, that require municipalities to control and protect their data and certify that they have knowledge of and control over who can access the data, who sees it, and how and where it is stored. In a public Cloud environment, this can be a problem. You want to make sure you pick the Cloud provider that best fits your compliance needs.
In closing, what government can do in the Cloud is constantly increasing, from storing vast amounts of data to using the latest in data management tools, email, and office productivity software. Don’t miss out on what the Cloud can offer your city or town.
Tim Howard is President and CEO of RMON Networks (www.rmonnetworks.com) located in Plaistow and Laconia, NH. RMON Networks has been providing IT Services to municipalities since 2001. To learn more, visit www.RMONNetworks.com/municipal.