How 4 cities are modernizing their IT infrastructure through the cloud

Cities across the U.S. are using cloud strategies to scale new citizen services, run cybersecurity centers and prepare for 5G.

Cloud computing concept

Image: iStock/Melpomenem

Infrastructure modernization moves more slowly in government organizations, but IT teams in U.S. cities are turning to cloud computing for the same reasons private companies are making the shift: scalability, security and efficiency. Cities are looking to the major cloud providers for help with this transition. 

Mike Daniels, vice president, global public sector at Google Cloud, said that his team is working with a number of state and local governments to move from legacy on-premises systems to  cloud-based environments. 

Daniels said that many government agencies have accelerated cloud projects over the last year to facilitate remote work for employees, secure information and create new services for residents. Unemployment spiked during the pandemic, hitting 14.8% in April 2020 and ending the year at 6.7%, according to the Congressional Research Service. Several states turned to cloud services to improve their unemployment systems. 

Last fall Rhode Island launched a Virtual Career Center with Google Cloud and Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development worked with Google to modernize its unemployment insurance claims processing.  

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Daniels said continuity of operations and employee training on cloud technology are two common barriers for city IT teams. 

"For stretched IT teams, being able to take on the process of migrating an existing system can feel overwhelming when they're currently doing everything in their power to just keep the lights on," he said.  

To support a modernization project in Pittsburgh, the Google team chose a technology platform that was familiar to the IT team so there was no disruption to current workflows.  

Curt Savoie, director of the global smart cities strategies program at IDC, said that the best place for cities to start modernization work is within a single domain that can be self-contained and single-sourced or with smaller Internet of Things deployment projects that are not yet mission-critical. 

"This can allow IT staff to get some experience managing the system and things that cloud brings to the table while not attempting a full scale data center migration," he said.

SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic)

Savoie said cloud migration makes sense for city IT teams who want to:

  • Reduce a data center's physical footprint
  • Scale up an application or deploy one quickly
  • Ensure high uptime and resiliency provided by a cloud ecosystem

Here's a look at how four cities have used cloud technology to improve city services and modernize IT infrastructure.

Improving connectivity in Carlsbad, California

Chief innovation officer of Carlsbad David Graham worked with Cisco to improve the city's overall communication infrastructure, which he described as a "Frankenstein network." He said in a video interview with Cisco that the network upgrade provided many benefits to the city including the ability to manage large amounts of data and improved internet service at public libraries. 

The future-proofing upgrade also included a high-speed network for municipal services. Graham said in the video interview that he sees the biggest 5G opportunity is providing low- or no-cost connectivity for underserved neighborhoods.

Graham said in an email that Carlsbad is using Cisco's software-defined access technology for the city's core operations and digital information network.  

"We're using third-party fiber and enhancing its capacity with Cisco dense wave division multiplexing, which lets us take the few strands of fiber and do a whole lot more with it," Graham said.

This infrastructure gives the city a ring that achieves 200 Gbps and 10 Gbps to city offices. Graham said previously there was no core operations ring, and sites were getting between 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

"In addition to connecting city sites and using the network for core operations, our connectivity roadmap (includes) connecting all of our smart traffic signals and our SCADA system for water and wastewater utilities," Graham said.

Strengthening Cyber Command in New York City

The city's cybersecurity team leads threat management and operates a 24-hour security operations center. The team works with more than 100 city agencies and offices to ensure systems are built and operated in a secure manner to make sure public assistance and healthcare are not compromised. NYC Cyber Command also manages an NYC Secure app that alerts users to unsecure Wi-Fi networks, unsafe Android apps and system tampering. The team uses a cloud infrastructure to find and mitigate threats. 

The Cyber Command uses a variety of Google cloud services including Cloud Storage, Computer Storage, Kubernetes Engine and Workspace. The team uses BigQuery to analyze batch and streaming data.

Modernizing water management in Washington D.C.

When the pandemic started, DC Water already had 90% of the organization's systems on the cloud, according to a blog post on Microsoft. The final step was moving in-person operations and services. The organization worked with ESRI to move applications, operational processes and customer requests to Azure. Goals for this work included improving data security and replacing paper processes with digital ones.

Durmus Cesur, the manager of work and asset management for DC Water, told Microsoft in the blog post that Azure was the best solution to provide continuous availability and scalability. 

The shift to the cloud also helped improve security as the DC Water workforce went remote during the pandemic. The team used Azure Sentinel, Cloud App Security and other Microsoft apps to strengthen cybersecurity defenses.

Director of Enterprise Applications Hari Kurup said in the blog post that DC Water plans to move to completely cloud-based operations without a physical office or infrastructure within the next 10 years. He plans to use PowerApps as part of achieving that goal.

Using Google Maps to track wildfires in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency wanted to find a user-friendly format for communicating time-sensitive information to residents. The team first used the Google Maps Platform to help people prepare for severe weather. They combined data from Google business databases, the National Weather Service and other sources to publish layers of information on a map of the region. Residents could use the map to find supplies or information relevant to them.

The city also uses Google Maps to track wildfire information. These maps include nearby evacuation centers and other services. In 2017, the Skirball Fire map racked up 3.5 million views within 36 hours of launch. Ted Ross, the chief information officer for the city, said in a Google Workspace blog post that his team chose Google Maps because the tool is familiar to so many people.

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