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CitySmart Blog

Friday, January 18, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Mike Smith, Senior Consultant and Team Lead
Mike Smith

A technical term that we often hear questions about is “cloud storage.” Generally, it’s understood as a service that requires no onsite hardware and can be accessed over the internet. Beyond that, we get a lot of questions that enter technical territory but point toward a desire to know the actual benefits versus the hype.

Like many technologies, cloud storage can be considered a tool—one of many tools that can help cities reduce risk, save money, and become more productive. For us, cloud storage is an excellent tool as part of a data backup and disaster recovery strategy.

In case this is a term that makes you curious, sounds magical, or applies to a solution you’re actively investigating, we’re providing some benefits in this post about cloud storage that will help you in your research and evaluation.

1. Cloud storage is great for housing offsite data backups.

Every data backup and disaster recovery strategy needs two components: onsite and offsite. An onsite component helps you recover quickly from a small event like accidental file deletion. But something like a natural disaster (or even a ransomware outbreak) requires a robust secure offsite component, and that is where cloud storage works well.

We’ve written before about versions of “offsite” data backup that fall short compared to something like cloud storage, such as:

  • A city storing its data backups “offsite” at the fire station down the street.
  • A city storing its data backups “offsite” on a flash drive at the mayor’s house.
  • A city’s IT provider storing its backups at their house.
  • A city storing its data backups at a building about six miles away from City Hall.

Cloud storage literally stores your data far offsite. If a disaster hits your city, your data is safe.

2. Cloud storage data centers secure and maintain your data better than you can.

Yes, a bold statement. But likely true in all cases. Cloud storage data centers operate at a scale where it’s nearly impossible for them to fail. That’s because they are able to home in on several things that would be a struggle for your city if you maintained your own hardware:

  • Security: Cloud storage data centers continually invest in the highest security measures and best practices that include ensuring only authorized access to data, reducing the risk of human error leading to data loss, and using up-to-date, modern technology and software.
  • Updates and upgrades: Updates and upgrades to cloud storage software are continuous and implemented in real-time, meaning that tasks such as patching are automatically applied without cities having to think about it.
  • Reliable and available: Because of redundant layered systems and failsafes, your information remains available and meets high uptime requirements.

3. Cloud storage stores your data in geographically diverse locations with lots of redundancy.

One reason cloud computing has become so reliable is that even a natural disaster or malfunction at one or more data centers won’t lead to data loss. Cloud storage data centers store your data across so many devices and places that a hit to one data center won’t destroy your data. Again, this is an excellent benefit when considering offsite data backup for disaster recovery.

4. Cloud storage scales so that you don’t compromise data backup based on costs and storage caps.

Traditionally, cities have struggled to find the right budget and solution for data backup because they would have to hedge their bets. Do you pay for a lot of offsite data storage that you might not use? Or do you pay for less and hope that you won’t hit your storage cap? We’ve seen many cities that took the budget-conscious approach face storage cap issues such as not backing up all critical data or scrambling to find budget late in the year to increase storage.

Cloud storage works on the model of giving you exactly what you need—whether you scale storage up or down. This allows you to pay only for what you use and scale your storage up when you need more room. Otherwise, you are forced to make bad decisions such as not backing up critical data because it’s not part of your rigid offsite storage solution—which risks permanent data loss.

5. Cloud storage works well with your compliance needs.

Cities must comply with many laws and regulations pertaining to records retention, public safety, and financial information. If cities manage their own storage, it’s more likely that compliance-related mistakes can occur that lead to costly financial and legal repercussions.

By contrast, cloud storage data centers must work across industries to comply with strict laws and regulations related to financial services, healthcare, and government. They have policies, procedures, processes, and best practices already in place that can map to your compliance needs. In addition, you may want to explore nuanced cloud solutions depending on your data needs or policy requirements.

As a result, you may consider options that include:

  • Public cloud storage: Stored on secure servers that may contain data and applications from other customers.
  • Private cloud storage: Stored on secure servers dedicated to your data only.

Whatever solution works best, you’re aiming for something that keeps your offsite data backups safe, secure, and compliant.

Cloud storage works as a great tool to help cities safely, securely, and compliantly store data offsite. Additional benefits include quick deployment, anytime/anywhere access to data, and adaptability to your city’s changing needs.

Questions about cloud storage and solutions related to your offsite data backup? Reach out to us today.

Friday, January 11, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Rod Riga, Data Center Engineer
Rod Riga

Cities are stewards of information that serve the public good. They keep records about city business and comply with open records and FOIA laws. As most information today is electronically created and stored, that information also needs backing up in case of an incident such as a server failure, natural disaster, and (yes) ransomware.

That’s why a records management strategy that backs up important documents and data is so critical. States have passed rigorous document retention schedules with the expectation that cities will keep and produce records upon request. The excuse of “We didn’t back up our records” is not a good one—leading to financial and legal liabilities along with a potential public relations disaster.

If you’re worried about how your city records are backed up, then ask yourself the following questions:

1. How are my city’s records backed up?

Sometimes, cities think they are backing up records when they aren’t. For example, the following common scenarios are not proper data backup solutions:

  • Manually backing up data to an external device. External hard drives or flash drives that depend on someone manually backing them up is an unreliable method and prone to human error.
  • Using consumer-grade data backup solutions: While these solutions are better than nothing, you cannot guarantee that they are backing up all your critical data and that you will recover it after an incident. Also, ask yourself if your consumer-grade solution is compliant.
  • Syncing files across different cloud storage platforms. While syncing files in two different locations may seem like backup, what happens if you delete a file or get a virus? Those changes get synched—and thus all your synched data is deleted or corrupted.
  • Copying files into another folder within the same records management system: If something happens to your server, it will affect all files—even if they’re copied into separate folders.
  • Relying on virtualized servers with redundancy built into them. Just because a server duplicates data within the same server or duplicates data across multiple virtual servers hosted within one physical server doesn’t mean it’s backed up. Server virtualization, with or without data replication, is not a data backup strategy.

A proper data backup and disaster recovery solution contains an onsite component for quick recovery, offsite component for disaster recovery, periodic testing to know you can recover, and real-time monitoring and maintenance overseen by IT professionals.

2. Are employees actually using the document management software?

This may sound obvious, but it’s not. Old habits die hard, and people like to take the quickest path to a solution. That quickest path may not involve following processes related to using a document management system.

You cannot back up what isn’t stored in the document management system. If employees are storing documents on their own computers or devices without placing them in the document management system, then recovering your records may be much harder when you cannot find files that were never stored there. Enforcing policies is a must.

3. Are my data backups only accessible by authorized people?

You want to make sure that data backups are as safe and tamper-proof as possible. If too many people have access to backed up files, then confusion, errors, and mistakes can occur. Ransomware may even access your data backups if someone is compromised. The backed-up data should only be accessible to administrative or service accounts and used only in case of emergency—such as after an incident that destroys equipment or eliminates access to data.

4. Is my data backup automated?

As part of automating record retention schedule tasks within your document management system, automated data backup tasks ensure that no human interaction is necessary from non-technical users. As records are uploaded into the document management system, they can be automatically backed up and accessible in the event of an incident such as a server failure. Automatically indexing these files also helps you manage them according to retention schedules.

5. Is my data backup storage appropriate for my city?

We see cities risk not backing up records because of storage situations. For example:

  • Cities often do not have enough storage to back up all critical data. Limitations include the amount of storage on existing backup servers or through cloud storage that the city purchases.
  • Cities often run into cost issues. Many storage vendors exist that have pricing models not conducive to cities. When cities budget for expensive storage, they purchase less of it—and back up less critical data.
  • Cities encounter data backup efficiency issues. If data backup storage is configured or managed poorly, then it can take too long to upload backups, interfere with employee productivity (by slowing down systems), and fail to back up data effectively or in an easily accessible way. Sometimes after an incident, it takes way, way too long to restore data—suggesting that the data backup storage solution cannot address the need for quick time to recovery.

Cities need unlimited offsite data backup storage to make sure they do not hit arbitrary storage limitations or price caps.

6. Do I test my data backup solution?

Too many cities believe they are backing up data only to realize the stunning truth after an incident—that the backups were corrupted or failing for months or even years. Periodic testing ensures that you can actually restore city records. You don’t want to find out too late that your data backups weren’t backing up all critical data, that you don’t know how to actually restore your data, or that the time to recovery of critical data takes weeks or months.

A strong data backup strategy helps with business continuity and disaster recovery related to city records. City clerks need to feel peace of mind that data is automatically stored and backed up. And city employees need to follow processes related to a city’s records management software so that any records they upload or edit (with authorization) are available and recoverable.

Need help making sure your city records are safe? Reach out to us today.

Friday, January 4, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Monday, December 31, 2018
Dave Mims, CEO
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Dave Mims, CEO
Friday, December 21, 2018
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Nathan Eisner, COO
Nathan Eisner

For police departments, body camera video can become an unpredictable, high-cost technology in their toolset. Starting in the early 2010s, the combination of body camera recording technology, software, and storage offered officers a tool to document case activity to a level of detail previously impossible. One of the key issues with this new technology—and an issue that has not gone away—is storage costs.

As a recent typical example, the city of Elizabeth City, North Carolina unexpectedly had to spend an extra $52,000 related to body camera video storage costs. According to the Daily Advance, “City Manager Rich Olson noted the city's in-car and body cameras are ‘data-storage intense.’ As a result, the city needs more space on its servers for the cameras’ footage. ‘The amount of storage we had, we thought had 30 days, but we actually looked at it and we only had 10 days,’ Olson said, adding later that high-resolution body camera footage consumes a lot of storage space.”

We’ve worked with quite a few cities on similar issues and often help them implement best practices that can help avoid very costly surprises as in the case of Elizabeth City. Here are four ways you can keep body camera video storage and archiving costs low and predictable for your police department.

1. Seek out a fixed cost solution.

In our experience, we’ve seen many police departments hit storage caps with body camera video solutions. Going beyond those caps require painful increases in storage costs. It may be tempting to work out a variable-cost deal that seems low at first, but body camera video storage needs will only increase—not decrease—over time. Inevitably, your costs will increase under such an arrangement.

Instead, you need a fixed cost video storage and archiving solution with unlimited storage. Cities function best when they experience predictable costs and keep budget surprises to a minimum. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrambling to find funds late in the year to increase your body camera video storage.

2. Follow state records retention schedules.

If you want to decrease your storage costs, follow retention policies. Keeping body camera video indefinitely out of ease or habit doesn’t help you at all. Costs increase because of additional storage, operational burden (such as staff labor if you need to produce or redact body camera video that you don’t need to keep), data management burdens, and the legal risks of managing expired records.

Depending on your state’s laws, you only need to keep body camera video for a specific amount of time. After that, get rid of it. Follow policy, don’t hoard records, and instead purge records.

3. Ensure that your body camera video software has the right capabilities.

Police departments need to configure video management software to follow state body camera video records retention laws along with easing the tasks of uploading and managing videos. In an interview with Auburn, Georgia’s Police Chief Carl Moulder and Lt. Chris Hodge last year, they said, “Focus on getting quality software that will manage the videos. While the camera capabilities are important, without an efficient managing software the in-house storage endeavor will fail. I highly recommend involving your IT provider from the very beginning. They can keep you from making huge IT-related errors. Again, I believe it’s better to not have a system at all than to have a system that doesn’t work properly.”

In addition, the software needs to help with uploading, managing, retrieving, and disseminating videos. Otherwise, operational and technical costs will increase related to storage if your massive amounts of body camera video data are hard to access or share in response to Open Records Requests and criminal investigations.

4. Find the right local storage and offsite video archiving combination that works best with your city.

Two extremes can get you into trouble with body camera video storage costs.

1. Local storage: Storing all body camera video on servers that you own and maintain onsite can get costly. You will need to buy new servers, expand storage, upgrade hardware and software, and constantly maintain this hardware.

2. Cloud storage: Moving to a cloud-only solution can increase costs too much depending on the solution. True, a cloud vendor may tout the flexibility and scalability of a purely offsite storage solution. But your costs can creep up quickly as you scale.

Instead, look for the combination that works best for your police department. For example, the City of Auburn realized that a cloud storage-only solution was too expensive. In the same interview referenced above, Moulder and Hodge said, “We wanted to move away from a cloud-based storage system and integrate a self-storage system within our own network. This saved on cloud storage fees, which were considerable, and allowed us to invest more money into the acquisition of more body camera units that could be assigned to an individual officer.”

Every city is different depending on size, body camera video needs, police department capabilities, and state records retention laws. An IT vendor experienced in municipalities can help find the right solution for you.

By finding the right solution, following state records retention laws, and negotiating a fixed cost, your city can avoid budget surprises when police departments hit storage caps. If you need help finding the right body camera video storage and archiving solution for your police department, reach out to us today.

Friday, December 14, 2018
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
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