The Cloud comes down to Earth
Several types of clouds
Cloud computing comes in a variety of forms and combinations. The "private cloud" is operated solely for one organization and may be managed by the organization or a third party, on or off premises. The "community cloud" is shared by several organizations and supports a specific community that has shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy and compliance considerations). It also is managed by the organizations or a third party, on or off premises. The "public cloud" is available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services.
Carlsbad, Calif.'s IT department wanted to replace its aging email system with a lower-cost, more flexible system. But the city was particularly interested in understanding the security levels of a cloud system as well as its availability for a city that expects around-the-clock service. "We thought that we could free up IT resources and devote [IT staff] to programs where you have to be an insider to understand how things work," says Gordon Peterson, the city's IT director. "You don't have to know Carlsbad to provide email service to Carlsbad."
By moving to a cloud system, Peterson says the city saved about 40 percent of the cost of developing the system on its own through decreased infrastructure and maintenance time. The city did spend more on some aspects of the project than it had anticipated, especially in managing how the city's 1,100 employees access the system.
Three areas in particular pleased Peterson with the changeover to the cloud. First, the city obtained a higher degree of emergency management reliability, through multiple sites and replication. "Trying to replicate the back-up sites would be almost impossible," he says. "It was highly beneficial and cost effective."
Second, the email program provides a significant number of enhancements over the system that was previously available. For example, the city has been able to use online meetings to increase productivity, online document sharing systems and mobile technology. "We think that this technology provides us with a net savings of a full-time employee," he says.
Finally, Peterson says the system was remarkably easy to implement. Discussion about a new system began in December 2008, and it was ready for use by the following March. "On Friday, we were using one system," he says, "and when we came back on Monday, we were using another. Virtually no shutdown time."
Vernon Hills, Ill.'s police department moved to the cloud to enhance its video camera system installed in its 36 police vehicles as a means of increasing officer safety and productivity. In particular, the city wanted an easy-to-use automated system that enabled remote viewing of live video and was secure for purposes of evidence. The department settled on a wireless cloud system from Microsoft. "We went from a VHS system to a digitized system that was affordable compared to others on the market," says Bill Price, deputy chief of police. "Cost was a factor."
Initially, when the video system was deployed, police officers were skeptical. "They were concerned that Big Brother was watching," Price says. "But today, the majority believe it affords more protection for them for internal investigations."
Price explains that sometimes residents make a complaint and remember facts differently than the officer. "Quite often, the camera produces a 'third person' view of what has taken place," he says.
The wireless system also has helped maintain data, because the information is easy to store and retrieve. "It provides a secure, stable and robust storage mechanism for video archival and retrieval that would otherwise have needed to invest significant dollars to build," he says.
Through experience, the department has found that although not perfect, the system has become a critical part of the city's police work. "We can now ensure an end-to-end chain of custody for captured digital evidence," Price says. "We're confident in the system that we have now."
Robert Barkin is a Bethesda, Md.-based freelance writer.