For Ben Berry, chief technology officer for the city of Portland, Ore., cloud computing must deliver on three fronts: cost savings, faster delivery of services and administrative time efficiencies.
Portland has been pursuing the cloud trail for awhile. By August, the city will finish migrating nearly 3,500 of its 5,200 users to Microsoft Office 365. Portland also has numerous business applications that it outsources to various service providers. For the past 18 months, the city has been working with a cloud service on which its new Risk Information Solution Connection (RISC) application is based.
A service provider is also transitioning the city’s paper-based building permit system to an automated web-based system, and Berry plans to issue an RFP for data center hosting.
Berry says the time savings and speed to market of provisioning applications via the cloud enables his IT team to focus on implementing enterprise and niche public-safety, utility, community development and legislative/administrative systems.
“Where possible, we’ll always look to the cloud first,” Berry says. “But for our public-safety bureau systems and any kind of sensitive communications, we’ll look to host them in-house. In fact, we have an application group that focuses entirely on bureau vertical applications development.”
Wayne Pauley, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says many IT departments turn to the cloud because they no longer want to be in the infrastructure business. “For many organizations, it used to take six months to budget, procure and acquire IT,” he says. Shrinking that process to a few days brings a strong advantage to any organization, allowing IT to focus on customer service and adding new capabilities.
Storage in the Sky
CIO Vijay Sammeta says that moving from 1990s file sharing to modern collaboration certainly has been a big step, but the project has been going well for the city. For example, the combination of Windows Azure and StorSimple offers many benefits to the city, including a major cost reduction for more than 70 terabytes of data.
“We now have one enterprise cloud solution across the city’s storage needs,” Sammeta says. “Plus, Windows Azure offers seamless integration of cloud storage with our local storage infrastructure. It also requires minimal staff time for our backup and offsite cloud storage.”
Moving forward, Sammeta says that those systems with highly specialized security or performance requirements are candidates for in-house solutions, but even that is changing. “When you consider critical systems that require high availability, as well as test and development environments, and that here in California they are susceptible to earthquakes, they’ll need a physical disaster recovery location outside the major metro disaster areas,” he says. “And such facilities can be very costly in terms of staff time as well as the dollars.”
Sammeta says over time it will make much less sense to run operations in-house because competition will reduce prices. Cloud security solutions are starting to eclipse what’s possible on premises at lower price points. What’s more, cloud computing offers IT departments the opportunity to deliver significant productivity gains while repositioning IT as solutions providers as opposed to gatekeepers of technology.
“That’s what excites me about the investment we have made,” Sammeta says. Now, the city’s IT staff can pivot from running local systems to focusing on more important initiatives, such as opening government data to the public.
Sorting Out the Cloud
Wayne Pauley, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, points out that the array of service provider types can be confusing because some got their start by providing colocation or managed services. Here’s how ESG distinguishes among the different types of providers:
- Colocation providers (COLOs) usually own the physical plant, which includes the data center, the building, the power and cooling infrastructure, the core network, and often the physical security cages for each customer’s system. Customers are usually responsible for providing all of their own equipment and implementing it. This includes storage, network gear, servers and backup technology. Customers are offered a choice of the IP ranges that the colocation provider has available or a pipe to their own ISP provider.
- Managed service providers (MSPs) offer services across many different business functions, including human resources and enterprise resource planning. Most MSPs deliver some level of management for the infrastructure stack, which can include backup and recovery and security services. The customer still usually owns the hardware or leases it from the MSP.
- Cloud services providers (CSPs), or more accurately, public-cloud service providers, offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and/or Software as a Service (SaaS). In all of these cases, the provider owns the facility and provides and manages the back-end infrastructure. To offer these services, a CSP must meet the definition of a cloud provider as set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which includes five key tenets: on-demand/self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured services.