Legislating in the Cloud

(The following are my notes from a panel discussion I attended at the National Conference of State Legislatures. These notes do not reflect my opinion on the subject matter, but rather serve to let you read what the dialogue was and with whom.)

Eric Duggar (Nevada IT)

  • “Forecast is cloudy with a chance of rain.”
  • Used to describe services that are accessed over the internet
  • Platform independent (Android, iOS, Windows)
  • Dispersed infrastructure
  • Very scalable

Examples of cloud services

  • Email
  • Document storage and collaboration (Dropbox, Google docs)
  • Web-based applications
  • Custom applications (apps for iPad)

3 types of Clouds

  • Public – vendors sell their outsource services; typically pay as you go monthly
  • Private – services “insourced;” created yourself; includes government clouds
  • Hybrid – mix of public and private clouds

Considerations

  • Cost – marketed as low cost, but look what you’re paying for; compare total costs
  • Requirements – consider features and solutions; is this what you need?
  • Security – both the Cloud’s security and your own; who has ownership of data; security is better today; who controls security? Manage your security as well; what happens if the cloud goes down or they go out of business, etc? Really manage this
  • Service – service provided vs. service needed

Service level agreements “musts”

  • Keep it short and simple
  • Liability – where does liability lie; where will disputes be settled
  • Unique business needs – what is unique to your needs, can they handle it
  • Include quality of service – make certain you get good service, they are proficient
  • Disaster recovery – what is the back-up plan in case of a disaster
  • Special fees or costs – what costs are associated with my specific needs
  • Data retention
  • Maintenance and downtime – will their downtime work for you

Avoid the Rain

  • What do you want to move and why
  • Private, public, or hybrid cloud
  • What features do you lose if in the cloud
  • What are your security concerns
  • Who has control and ownership of your data
  • Will it actually save you money
  • Talk to your IT staff!!

Sharon (Virginia House of Delegates IT)

  • Was a Lotus Notes entity – not the best system for their needs
  • Had an evaluation process to see what the software was like, if it worked for them, whether they should switch from Lotus Notes; wrote RFI with many concerns laid out; issued RFI to Microsoft and fine tuned the details

Their Approach

  • They are in a 4-5 year application development plan
  • They went with a hybrid Cloud, with some critical data kept in-house
  • Pilot group of staff to test drive
  • Pilot group of members (all levels of ability)
  • Migration process (small groups migrated weekly, providing classes for members every Wednesday)

Their challenges

  • Preparation – needed 4 additional servers just to help with migration of data and for dual delivery purposes
  • Migration of email – content did move over well; initial process caused some search issues; dual delivery system presented some issues
  • Some browser compatibility issues – some worked better than others
  • Acclimating users – some embraced the change, others did not; there were some users who missed some features; it is fast, nimble, and flexible but lacks some client options; compared to running a web version of email versus a full featured program

Advantages of the Cloud

  • Fewer servers
  • Managing user accounts in one place
  • Flexibility of Outlook vs. OWA interfaces
  • Consistent interfaces for users (they can do at any location what they can from the capitol)
  • Presence awareness/resource sharing available from anywhere
  • Business processes available on mobile devices – can do work on the go, working mobile, better efficiency and productivity

What they learned

  • Go slowly – pilot group helped identify issues of concern
  • Know retention laws / requirements – know when data plan expires
  • Good opportunity to evaluate many processes – get to improve some old, perhaps out dated  processes
  • Plan for data protection – was able to evaluate the data and make a back-up plan for mission critical data

Jonathan Palmore (Senior Assistant Clerk – Technology, Senate of Virginia)

House and Senate IT offices are different in Virginia (Wow! Why?)

Why look at the Cloud?

  • Looking to simplify disaster recovery
  • Unhappy with their email system
  • Use system year-round, not just in session
  • Already moving applications to the web

Pros

  • Universal interface – move from place to place and access data
  • More familiar interface – users already Gmail or Google apps in private life
  • Simpler licensing structure – $50/head every month
  • More accessible – can get info to members
  • More smartphone and tablet support – out the box communication was easy with hand held devices
  • More client options

Cons

  • Not a good universal address book or address book sharing
  • Cloud providers are hacker targets! As state governments we are hacker targets; double-whammy
  • Privacy – who owns your data? Who handles it? How is contract written?
  • Loss of control of customization of interface
  • Downtime – one single point of failure, and it failed! They had no access to email for two days during session

How they moved to the cloud

  • Pilot began July 2009
  • Expanded pilot later that year
  • Began moving users in August 2010
  • All users moved to Google Apps by November 2010

Findings

  • Some employees will be happy, some will not
  • There will be resistance to change
  • Full time staff had the hardest time transitioning
  • Legislative offices have liked the switch (for the most part)
  • 75% of offices using the cloud account all year
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