State and local government see cloud computing in their future

As public funds continue to shrivel, state and local governments are increasingly turning to the Internet to trim technology costs and better manage information services. Cloud computing not only makes it possible to access information from anywhere at any time, but also to shed internal IT infrastructure in favor of renting software applications from remote providers.

There are essentially three types of cloud computing services: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). All three provide computer servers, data storage and communications capabilities at a central location, allowing clients to access software applications remotely. However, each is designed for a specific business need.

Which type of service an organization needs comes down to two basic questions: How much internal technical expertise will be supported by the department? Is the department prepared to invest in ongoing maintenance of software? Often, government agencies benefit by freeing up these resources to address greater needs.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing provides an offsite data center with storage and servers connected to the Internet. Providers host applications and services on the network that can be accessed anywhere by users with a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. To varying degrees, the service provider maintains the hardware, software and infrastructure. An organization or end user simply pays to access the software.

In a recent law enforcement white paper, Steve Ambrosini, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute (IJIS), says justice and public safety executives are leveraging these new technologies to affect the productivity and efficiency of their agencies and promote better information-sharing in support of their missions.

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Here’s what the different services offer:

Infrastructure as a Service

Providers of IaaS offer cloud-based frameworks for services that have typically resided at the workplace—data storage, email, telecommunications, record management and other business functions. IaaS services can be private or public, or a hybrid combination. In a private cloud, the organization owns and manages the environment, allowing for tighter security and control over sensitive data, which can be particularly important to government agencies. A public cloud, on the other hand, might offer data rental space or storage for general access—for example, access to federal crime databases.

Platform as a Service

Providers of PaaS offer cloud-based computing and development environments. Developers, programmers and end-users can use the remote software to build and deploy customized software—or even self-standing applications—for use in their own organizations. Few, if any, government agencies are currently using PaaS services.

Software as a Service

Providers of SaaS host a variety of applications that can be used just like software on a local workstation, except the actual software lives on a server that might be located thousands of miles away. Businesses pay to use the remote software for myriad purposes, including training, computer-aided dispatch and many other mission-critical applications. By “renting,” enterprises avoid the high cost of purchasing sophisticated applications, as well as the cost of maintaining and upgrading them. SaaS providers manage the software and the platform on which it resides.

Take a Closer Look at SaaS

SaaS suppliers provide access to software applications over the Internet. Organizations do not manage the cloud or the software; they simply use it.

Remember the CD-ROM? You loaded a software application onto each PC in the office, or centrally on a local network computer server in the office. To use the software, you had to be on a specific computer on which it was loaded, or on a computer with access to the office network.

In a SaaS model, the application resides on a server at the provider’s location, in some cases thousands of miles away. A user simply logs on to the application through the Internet and starts working—anytime, anywhere from any device with an Internet connection. There is no need to load software on an individual workstation, and no need to maintain a server in the office.

Google Gmail and Google Drive are examples of SaaS. As the SaaS provider, Google takes care of software maintenance, security and updates. The user accesses the tools over the Internet with their computer or mobile device, and Google stores that data for later retrieval. When the provider takes care of the heavy lifting, the organization’s technical and labor costs are reduced.

State and Local Government Implement IaaS and SaaS

In 2011, the federal government began to push the adoption of cloud-based technologies. Former federal government Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra declared, “To harness the benefits of cloud computing, we have instituted a Cloud First policy. This policy is intended to accelerate the pace at which the government will realize the value of cloud computing by requiring agencies to evaluate safe, secure cloud computing options before making any new investments.”

In the past four years, state and local government organizations, especially law enforcement agencies, implemented private and public services to reduce expenses and improve efficiency. According to the IJIS, adoption has been slow because of concerns about data security and migration risks.

Nevertheless, according to FedTech Magazine, the Department of Homeland Security created a strategy in 2011 for nine private-cloud services and three public-cloud services. Two years later, government agencies issued 95 cloud procurement solicitations.

Many law enforcement groups are currently using IaaS for record management and communications. More and more, departments are investigating the benefits of moving further into the cloud to leverage SaaS services for training, computer-aided dispatch software and other internal software applications.

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