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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

In 2012 alone, severe weather has challenged the fortitude of many cities around the United States. Massive thunderstorms hit the East Coast in late June and early July, the Southeast was hit by unusual storms back in January, and massive tornadoes slammed the Midwest in February. Recent wildfires and drought conditions have also strained the limited resources of municipalities that serve the West and Midwest.

To combat severe weather-related data loss, many have heard about cloud backup as a kind of modern cure-all. However, recent complaints (such as those quoted in a July 16, 2012 Computerworld article) show that cloud services (including Amazon's Cloud Services) were also affected by the same severe weather that hit various regions of the country. This kind of cloud services failure unfortunately encourages people and organizations to revert back to dangerous practices (such as only keeping one's data onsite).

During severe weather, data backup is especially important for cities since citizens often rely on municipalities for emergency information and services. If the cloud is not a cure-all solution, what is the ultimate answer to a city's data backup needs?

Data Backup Questions For Cities To Consider

To combat the effects of fire, severe weather, and other disasters, you need to strategically think through your data backup just as you would think through any other municipal disaster recovery policy.

  1. How long can you be down without your data? Is it okay to be down for several days? A week? Or do you need to be up in minutes or hours? Municipalities can differ based on the services they provide, so it's best to imagine the worst has happened. In that worst case scenario, how long could you last without your data?
  2. How long will it take to get your computer systems back online? Ask your IT staff or IT vendor to provide this information if you don't know.

Compare the two figures and you will quickly know if you are in trouble. For example, if you need to be back up in two hours, it's not a good thing if your servers will come back up in three days!

Ensure You Are Able to Recover Your Data

Now that you have a gut level understanding about where you stand with your data backup, you can then explore services and options to better align these numbers. We often deal with cities that need their systems available at all times, so our solution typically recovers files in minutes. In order to assist a city in recovering from a disaster, these files are stored in multiple data centers across the country.

Finally, data backups should be tested frequently to maintain your confidence that you can recover when disaster occurs. Simulate the ultimate disaster such as a massive storm hitting your entire region, a hurricane, or a tornado. Will your data be recovered even in the worst possible case? (The answer should be YES!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Dave Mims, President
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Dave Mims, President
Thursday, July 05, 2012
Dave Mims, President

The federal government has encouraged its agencies to focus on operational expenditures rather than capital expenditures during the upcoming fiscal year (October 2012-Septmber 2013). However, only one-third of technology leaders are considering this change according to a recent study by MeriTalk, a government IT network.

In fact, only 36 percent of IT officials are considering a shift of their IT programs to operational expenditures. Respondents cited network and data center infrastructure as likely places to transition funding. They also believe federal financial professionals offer very little consensus on what constitutes operational expenditures. Additionally, they see layers of new approvals needed to make funding changes.

Many IT managers (30 percent) are missing the opportunity to maximize their budgets by transitioning to operational expenditures because they just don’t realize what is available to them, according to the survey.

However, moving federal websites and computer systems to cloud storage rather than using in-house data center storage is one way to make headway on operational expenditures. Agencies can pay for cloud storage like a utility, where cost is based on how much storage they use. In short, federal agencies would save money and use it elsewhere because they wouldn’t have to buy new servers or maintain them.

Additional survey results are available in this recent Next.gov article.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Security breaches can have more severe consequences than lost or stolen data. In the case of one government official in Utah, cybercrime may have led to his resignation.

According to an opinion piece in Government Technology, Utah’s CIO submitted his resignation last month, after the state’s IT officials discovered that health and Medicaid data for nearly 800,000 residents — including 280,000 Social Security numbers — had been stolen from a poorly secured server operated by the state's Department of Technology Services.

According to the story, the state was dealing with a significant increase in cyberattacks in the months preceding the massive security breach – to the extent that they didn’t take the time to conduct preventative measures, such as scanning their networks, to thwart additional risks.

The article, which originally appeared in GOVERNING, is a cautionary tale that demonstrates some of the other negative outcomes of security breaches. At the same time, the piece provides advice on what steps, such as better document classification, that agencies can take to avoid these situations.

Most important, government officials and agencies need to make sure that cybersecurity issues are addressed in an ongoing manner rather than when something goes wrong.

To read the full story, click here.

Friday, June 08, 2012
Quan Ouyang, Senior Software Consultant
State and local government are exploring more ways of engaging residents. The most recent example is Texas.gov’s new mobile site. 

Since its mid-April launch, the state has received approximately 1.1 million visits to its official website. Of those, 70 percent are new users. State officials believe the new m.texas.gov mobile site is responsible for the new users. 

The mobile site connects with visitors through a five-point navigation system consisting of four icons: “Drive,” “Contact,” “Pay” and “Work,” and a search bar.

How does it work?
“Drive” brings visitors to a listing of related links, including driver’s license or vehicle registration renewal information. “Play” directs them to an overview of various fees, loans and how to make donations. The “Drive” function has been the most popular feature of the mobile site thus far. License renewals rank first on the list of services accessed through the site.

Since its debut, Texas.gov’s mobile site has received more than 67,000 visits. At 35 percent of those total visits, Android devices are the most commonly used mobile platform used to access the site. The iPad came in second at 27 percent. 

To read the complete story, click on this link.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager
It has been more than a year since the federal government adopted its Cloud First initiative as a way to get agencies to move certain applications to the cloud to streamline costs and improve security.

And, many agencies are now starting to have more confidence in the cloud’s ability to keep their data secure.

According to a survey last fall conducted by SafeGov.org, more than 83 percent of respondents had fully or partially identified the first three applications they intended to migrate. In addition:
  • 25% have fully migrated at least one legacy application to the cloud;
  • 47% say their first migration was in progress; 
A TechAmerica report published earlier this year also encouraged state and local governments to move to the cloud. The report includes recommendations around technical, implementation, and acquisition issues surrounding the adoption of cloud computing. 

The report also includes examples of how state and local governments are seeing benefits from cloud computing, which can sometimes be easily and quickly accomplished through cost-effective implementation of the technology.

If you haven’t already started thinking about the cloud, now may be the time to put the cloud first in your technology decisions. 
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Government Technology recently interviewed the state and local government CIOs to gather their thoughts about cloud computing. Overall, government officials think the idea of moving the cloud is refreshing. They say the move will force government to become more agile, and will force them to decide what IT services are kept in-house versus what is handed off to the private sector.

For all of their thoughts, click the link below to watch the video.

Watch the video.

Monday, May 14, 2012
Dave Mims, President
In 2011, more than 174 million online records were compromised; more than 100 million of those were from hacking, according to a data breach report from Verizon. The report analyzed 855 data breaches that occurred worldwide last year. One major finding: hactivism is on the rise.

Hacktivism, or cyberhacking committed with political and social objectives in mind, are dangerous because they tend to compromise much higher volumes of data than traditional cybercriminal activity, according to the Verizon report. Although hacktivism is gaining in popularity, most breaches are still caused by criminals seeking financial gain. Cybertheives commonly access insufficiently protected information using weak, default of stolen log-in information.

What’s not on the rise? Breaches in cloud security. Cloud computing advocates will be happy to know that there is little evidence of data breaches in the cloud, according to Brian Sartin, vice president of Verizon’s Research Investigations Solutions Knowledge team in a recent CFOworld article. He goes on to state that, “There’s a compelling lack of statistics for that.”

Cloud security is often included in most cloud services. Although it’s a major concern for all cloud providers, it is often better than the security provided in a private computing environment. As cloud computing continues to mature, so will its ability to securely protect data. Local government agencies using the service can find trust in knowing their data is safe in the cloud.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager
Today’s mobile technology and the proliferation of mobile devices is making it easier for local and state employees to access information from anywhere at any time. 
One Minnesota’s state government agency is maximizing the move to mobile while, at the same time, boosting remote email access and, ultimately, improving employee productivity. The Office of Enterprise Technology, (OET), recently moved nearly 40,000 workers in more than 70 agencies to Microsoft Office 365 for email services and collaborative tools. 
Minnesota is the first state to fully deploy Microsoft Office 365, the company’s cloud email product, according to a recent Microsoft announcement. This service is used by more than 1,000 state and local government agencies in some capacity, including Colorado, Wyoming, Maryland and Utah.
Moving to the cloud has generated many benefits. In addition to cost savings and storage capacity benefits, Tarek Tomes, assistant commissioner of the OET, says the cloud email service allows Minnesota agencies to concentrate on finding solutions to business problems instead of trying to provide a communications platform.
He states, “The biggest piece for us is how enabling it is for us to have an ecosystem where we can innovate and not operate.” According to Tomes, the state can now provide all of Minnesota’s public sector with a modern platform that has modernization aspects embedded within it that doesn’t require huge capital expenditures on a periodic basis.
The migration took about two months to complete and was rolled out in phases. This approach kept users who have similar communication and collaboration needs together. These new cloud services have created more flexibility in how Minnesota government agencies handle their daily operations. The OET can renew systems, hardware and add capacity without making any capital expenditures.
“From a state perspective, we can now tie different organizations together to solve collaborative things they have in common, but we’re also able to collaborate more broadly with counties and cities,” said Tomes. “We’ve broken down the hurdles of IT to get to business value much quicker.”
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