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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

A slew of recent articles have pointed out that organizations still using Windows XP or Windows Vista will not be able to use Office 2013. The outcry stems from the fact that XP and Vista are still popular operating systems, and the argument goes that Microsoft is wrong to prevent those people and organizations from using Office 2013.

Of course, these are legitimate concerns. But we look at this issue very differently.

The Reality of Hardware and Software Lifecycles

Sometimes we wish hardware and software could be like land, a vehicle, or office furniture. We want our servers and computers to last more than ten years. We want to completely maximize our original investment.

But information technology is different. Think back to your servers and computers in 2001, just ten years ago. Or even in 2006, just five years ago. Think about what did not yet exist, remember your slow computers and cell phones, and recall the limited functionality of websites and online business. It was not that long ago, was it?

Technology moves at light speed. Let's return to XP and Vista, especially in context of running an organization. How would you face the following facts when your organization completely depends on your IT?

  • XP stopped being supported by Microsoft on April 14, 2009. (Extended support ends on April 8, 2014.)
  • Vista stopped being supported by Microsoft on April 10, 2012. (Extended support ends on April 11, 2017.)
  • A PC has an industry expectation of a three-year lifespan. Many people can stretch that lifespan to five years, but desktops and laptops will literally start to fall apart beyond that span of time.

Just like a bridge, a road, or a truck that falls into absolute disrepair after decades, IT falls into the same disrepair - but after only three to five years. It may be annoying, but unfortunately it is reality. But there are ways you can stay up to date without having to spend inordinate amounts of money on hardware and software upgrades.

Keeping Microsoft Office Up to Date Without Hurting Your Budget

With Office 2013, Microsoft is delivering a productivity suite that is designed to run on new equipment. That is because Office 2013 can take advantage of performance increases built into newer operating systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8. We see two options depending on your operating system.

  • If you already have Windows 7 (or already plan on implementing Windows 8), great! You can already run Office 2013. Keep in mind that there are still minimum technical requirements In order to use Office 2013.
  • If you are determined not to change operating systems and stick with XP or Vista, then you can take advantage of services such as Office Pro Plus and Office Web Apps. Similar to Google Docs, you'll be accessing your Office 2013 from the cloud.

Keep in mind that if you are set upon running your servers and computers into the ground, you risk downtime and data loss - especially if those systems are no longer are supported by Microsoft. We recommend a strategy that at least does the following:

  • Takes as much of your software as possible into the cloud to reduce costs (especially from capital to operational expenses). That includes email, document management, and productivity software.
  • Consider replacing all outdated and unsupported servers and workstations with new equipment. When assessing your hardware and software, take advantage of a knowledgeable expert to help you figure out how this activity will save you money.
  • Ensure hardware and software is targeted and used only as necessary. In other words, everyone may not need to use every aspect of Office 2013.

Read more about hardware and software lifecycle best practices and contact us if you have additional questions.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Dave Mims, President

The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) has recently partnered with Sophicity to deliver IT in a Box to cities in Georgia. This new service was officially launched by the Georgia Municipal Association on Thursday, July 26, 2012.

IT in a Box is consistent with GMA's mission to not only provide leadership and guidance for cities but also to help local government stay innovative and efficient in serving their citizens.

Lamar Norton, Executive Director of GMA, said:

IT in a Box is aimed at providing cities with state-of-the-art information technology tools supported by experienced, highly skilled IT professionals. This service is being offered through a contract with Sophicity, GMA’s longtime IT consulting partner. The cities of Oakwood, Oxford, and Flowery Branch have piloted the service, and each city has already provided very positive feedback.

For one monthly all-inclusive fee, a city will receive:

  • A website
  • Data backup and offsite data storage
  • Email
  • Document management
  • Microsoft Office for desktops
  • Server and desktop management
  • Vendor management
  • Helpdesk support seven days a week

Watch an interview with Mike Miller, Mayor of Flowery Branch, and Stan Brown, City Manager of Oakwood sharing their feedback and experience with IT in a Box.

Learn more about this service from the Georgia Municipal Association.

For additional information, please contact:

Georgia Municipal Association
Lou Comer at (678) 686-6260 or lcomer@gmanet.com
Pam Helton at (678) 686-6275 or phelton@gmanet.com

Dave Mims at (770) 670-6940, ext. 110 or davemims@sophicity.com
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 5, 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 3, 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 8, 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.

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