Moving to the Cloud

By Bob Violino Print this article Print

Government agencies are implementing virtualization, cloud computing, and mobile devices and applications to help keep costs in line and deliver quality services to the public.


Moving to the Cloud

Like virtualization and mobility, cloud computing is becoming a key part of the IT strategy of state and local governments.

In 2010, the city of Alexandria, Va., decided to move a number of IT services to the cloud, as part of an overall effort to streamline technology and tech support throughout the municipality, says Shelly Ryan, deputy director of Alexandria's Information Technology Services.

The city signed up for Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (EA), Microsoft's licensing program that enables organizations to choose either on-premises or cloud services. "It was a strategic move for us because previously we were under a Microsoft licensing agreement that did not lend itself to economies of scale," Ryan says.

In addition, the city was using three or four versions of Microsoft Office throughout its user environment, and it wanted to standardize on one version while moving to a hosted model. Having multiple versions of software "was a support and training nightmare," Ryan says. With its move to the Microsoft cloud, the city is now using one version of Office.

One of the most effective ways Alexandria is leveraging the cloud is for email management. The city had been using Lotus Notes Domino for email and collaboration for about 10 years. While the platform served a useful purpose over the years, it wasn't able to work with the Microsoft collaboration tools that the government wanted to use, such as Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meeting, instant messaging and Web conferencing.

The city used software from Quest Software Public Sector to securely move users' email mailboxes—including all historical email data—to the cloud. Alexandria now uses hosted services for its email and collaboration needs.

"We had a large amount of email data, and Quest developed a tool that allows us to take all of that on-premises data and synchronize it to the cloud in a very efficient fashion, so we had no loss of data and no downtime," Ryan says. "We moved 2,700 mailboxes in less than six months."

Alexandria's move to the cloud allowed the city government to adapt to budget concerns. "Given that we're a local government, we are [frequently] looking at budget constraints," Ryan says, and using the cloud rather than on-premises applications has enabled the government to avoid significant costs.

The city has seen cost savings and cost avoidance with the move. The savings comes through the elimination of about 15 servers and the associated support and backup costs. And by adopting the new cloud licensing model, Alexandria estimates it will avoid some $1.2 million licensing-related costs over a six-year period.

The new communications and collaboration features have improved worker productivity and efficiency, enabling city workers to better serve citizens through more rapid responses, Ryan says. People can connect more easily not only internally with other city employees, but externally as well. Many are using tablet devices and smartphones to access the new communications and collaboration features.

This improved connectivity, including Web conferencing, also enables more people to work from home effectively. By increasing the number of teleworkers, Alexandria can operate in a more environmentally friendly way, Ryan says.

There have been challenges during in the transition to the cloud and new email platform. One of the biggest was getting users to adapt to change.

"We had cultural issues that we had to address," Ryan says. "Some people liked the legacy email platform and moving was traumatic for them. We had to be diligent with set up, training and communications."

This article was originally published on 2012-07-03
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