Fulton County Dials Up Mobile ConnectivityBy Samuel Greengard Print
The county built a more flexible, powerful mobile framework that puts critical information in the hands of police, firefighters, building inspectors and others.
Over the last few years, mobility has landed at the center of IT. Organizations have come to realize that a broad array of business and IT initiatives are only as good as the mobile backbone that supports them.
"It's critical to have a workforce that can connect from anywhere and under any conditions," says Jay Terrell, chief technology officer and director of IT for Fulton County, Ga.
As the largest and most populated county in Georgia—with 42 departments and approximately 5,800 government employees—connecting people and systems effectively is complex and time-consuming. What's more, there's a critical need for police, firefighters and others to stay in communication, particularly during a disaster or severe weather, such as last winter's ice storm.
"A primary challenge with mobile connectivity is that diverse departments—including libraries, jails and health departments—have very different needs," Terrell explains. "There's no 'one-size-fits-everybody' approach. As workers have moved from laptops to tablets and smartphones, the demand for services has spiked, and the need for easily accessible data has grown."
During a migration to Windows 7, Terrell and other IT officials recognized a need for change. The county had to support 64-bit secure remote access for Citrix GoToMyPC and other solutions, while continuing to use applications and services running on a legacy mainframe. A previous VPN appliance wasn't up to the task, he says.
As a result, the county turned to three Dell E-Class SRA EX7000 appliances to provide clientless SSL VPN access. Each device accommodates up to 5,000 concurrent users. The environment supports up to eight nodes, with configuration taking place behind an external load balancer.
Terrell says that the user interface has provided significant advantages over previous devices and systems. "We're able to provide the end users with a log-on page that gives them direct access to things in a way that looks familiar to them," he points out. "There's no punching in a bunch of IP addresses and commands to get the secure VPN connection. That provides absolutely no value to them."
Instead, customized interfaces and Web pages greet different departments. In some cases, departments share common applications but use different interfaces, he adds.
The county deployed the three SRA EX7000 appliances, with a high-availability (HA) cluster, at the primary data center. It uses another appliance at a remote co-location facility to host Dell SonicWALL Spike License accounts. This allows the agency to increase remote user counts dynamically.
The IT department integrated authentication with Active Directory. Each department has its own shared drive, which users can access when they log into the system. However, employees can only access data for which they have departmental permission.
The solution helped the county enhance connectivity and build mobility into the fabric of the organization, while also lowering the total cost of ownership by reducing administrative overhead and staff hours.
"The widespread adoption and support of mobile technology is driving the county toward a more digital environment," Terrell explains. "It's putting critical information in the hands of police, firefighters, building inspectors and many others—where and when they need it."
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