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The Cloud Computing Update

Written by PSIT Staff

Police departments are under greater pressure than ever to reduce costs and consolidate operations, while at the same time providing more sophisticated levels of service and support. Basically, they need to do more with less. To overcome these obstacles, IT managers are increasingly turning to a new set of solutions that can reduce costs while providing a more flexible, efficient, and automated method for delivering applications to end users. Chief among these is cloud computing.

Cloud computing is defined by Wikipedia as the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet). Many companies now offer services over the “cloud.” Benefits to agencies include cost and time savings, as well as expanded data sharing capabilities.

There has been a lot of buzz about cloud computing over the past few years in the IT arena, but just how well is cloud computing being accepted by law enforcement agencies and how comfortable are they with this concept due to security and other issues? Following is a brief overview of studies on cloud computing acceptance and some solutions from industry players.

Motorola Solutions 

According to Steven Young, Motorola’s Senior Security Strategist for Professional Services, Motorola’s cloud computing offerings include LTE networking architecture and video surveillance solutions. Many agencies are leery of sharing data and want to make sure controls are in place for protection of their data. Young said there are really two cloud models: Private and Public. A Private Cloud solution is better suited for the state, local or county levels. The “Private” cloud lends itself well to investigative and tactical levels. In investigations, data can be shared across multiple jurisdictions, especially helpful in major cases. At the tactical level, major incidents such as HazMat or natural disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.) often have “pieces to the puzzle.” For example, law enforcement, Fire and EMS could all respond to such incidents and the cloud application shares all of their data. “The linchpin is mobile devices and mobile computing,” Young stated. The latest tablet computers such as the iPad and cell phones like the iPhone or Droid are now being used by officers in the field and in police cars. “The permutations of how to use it are endless,” Young commented.

The problem is how to provision these mobile devices. In other words, what type of applications are they going to see (e-mail, texting, video, etc.). If an officer or firefighter can’t see a floorplan on his mobile device, that is not going to help him in an emergency rescue situation. In the example of a flood, the status of the nearest water treatment plant would prove useful to first responders. “In the next few years, those apps will be game changers,” Young noted.

What about agencies with decreasing budgets? Cloud computing makes officers more efficient with less money. “Since IT is typically not their forte, it’s a resource saver,” Young said. The initial investment up front might be unusually steep and politically challenging for some agencies, but the end result is well worth it.

Young cited an example of six agencies sharing data across mobile devices. An officer has left a department, and there is a security issue with him taking his mobile phone with him if it has sensitive or confidential information on it. In this case, a Private Cloud model is better because each agency is hosting its own infrastructure. Microsoft is an example of a Public Cloud model because it hosts e-mail across multiple agencies. Young said agencies are at risk for co-mingled data in a Public Cloud solution. “A Private Cloud is more efficient, flexible and secure,” Young explained. In the Public Cloud model, a third party is responsible for security breaches.

In the Private Cloud model, the agency that is hosting is responsible. This poses its own unique challenges. Newer versions of mobile devices come out all the time, as do operating systems and apps for them. Agencies need to educate themselves on what cloud options are available to them so officers can do their jobs more efficiently.

Although cloud computing is a fairly new concept, it is one that agencies are adopting because of its many benefits. However, a “digital divide” still exists, he said, between those people who own PCs and those who don’t. It is similar with large and small agencies; some have money to spend and some don’t. The key is for large agencies to reach out to smaller agencies and show them what works and what doesn’t. Young cautioned that the regulations are strict for cloud computing. Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA), Department of Child & Family Services (DCFS), Payment Card Industry (PCI) regulations all come into play for law enforcement. PCI deals with payments for tickets on mobile devices developed by VISA and Mastercard for breaches of security.

Currently, criminal background checks cannot be accessed through the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) on mobile devices. The cloud computing model would empower officers with access to that data, whereas now it typically has to go through a centralized authority user, such as a lieutenant or a sergeant. Obtaining this information instantly on a mobile device far outweighs waiting for a radio call-back with the same data. In terms of mobile video surveillance, cameras in patrol cars have different views than cameras set up at intersection lights. With Motorola’s solutions, those cameras can link with traffic cameras and share video across multiple agencies, which increases situational awareness.

Green Bay Police Case Study

The Green Bay (Wisc.) Police Department wanted to increase security at the Port of Green Bay, as well as throughout the city, through an expandable video surveillance system that would enable them to easily deploy additional cameras as the need arose and funding became available. “From increased security at the Port to managing the crowds at our downtown festivals to keeping an eye on the bridges, we were looking for a cost effective solution that would provide full coverage,” said Lieutenant Paul Ebel, Green Bay Police.

In 2005, the Green Bay Police implemented a Motorola Wireless Broadband Point-to-Multipoint system to establish a platform for a citywide video surveillance solution. The Motorola Wireless Broadband platform enables the police to enhance and extend its broadband wireless networks, adding “last mile connectivity” to facilitate delivery of video services, security surveillance, and highspeed broadband Internet access throughout the city.

Baycom, Inc., a Motorola authorized channel partner, built the wireless infrastructure, backbone, storage network, video infrastructure and installed the cameras. “With its advanced encryption and high rate of interference tolerance, the Motorola Wireless Broadband solution is more secure, more stable, easily expandable, and has the greatest capabilities,” said Jason Pedersen, Broadband Sales Engineer, Baycom.

Seven cameras were initially placed along the Fox River and the bay of Green Bay from atop the existing police department tower at the southern side of the city and to the city’s water tower on the north. The project, as well as later expansions, was funded through a Homeland Security Grant program.

With the infrastructure in place, adding remote locations or moving nomadic cameras is easy and the city has expanded the original seven cameras to more than 20, providing additional coverage of the entire Green Bay area. “Adding a remote location is relatively simple to do,” said Steve Meadowcroft, IT director, Green Bay Police. “We can put up cameras on a tower or mount them on an antenna. Basically you drop in the camera, do some wiring, and the site is up and rolling in a matter of hours.”

On a day-to-day basis, the department uses the cameras to monitor ships coming into and out of the port. The Point-to-Multipoint wireless network has enabled the Green Bay Police to monitor not only the port, but most of the city as well. “Some of the cameras are located on the three main bridges that cross the Fox River,” Lt. Ebel said. “We have actually witnessed accidents on cameras and dispatched patrols to the site before anyone even called it in.”

The police can also securely tap into the city’s water department surveillance system for additional coverage. In the event of an emergency, each organization has immediate, secure access to the other’s cameras. The surveillance solution from Motorola provides a mix of fixed and movable cameras and has enabled the police to speed response and situational awareness, increase productivity without staffing increase, and measurably reduce operational expense. “This gives us more eyes on the street and acts as a force multiplier,” Lt. Ebel stated. “With the video surveillance cameras running over the Motorola system, we are able to increase security and improve response time without expanding our staff.”

CompTIA Study

Challenged by tight budgets, bureaucratic hurdles and a dramatic rise in cybersecurity attacks, government agencies are looking for technology solutions that help them become more efficient while at the same time reducing costs, according to new research released by CompTIA, the non-profit association for the information technology (IT) industry. Shrinking resources, more demands for services, heightened security threats shape IT spending priorities at local, state and federal levels.

CompTIA’s Second Annual Government IT Purchase Plans study was developed from a survey of 375 federal, state and local IT buyers and influencers. The data was collected during late February 2011. Becoming more cost efficient will serve as the leading influencer for government agencies’ IT purchases over the next 12 months, according to CompTIA’s survey. It was identified as an influential or very influential factor in purchase decisions by 60 percent of the government IT decision makers or influencers surveyed. With efficiency as the top consideration, more government agencies are embracing automation and cloud computing solutions, according to the report.

Considering the growth of cloud computing, the 375 federal, state and local government IT purchasers responding to the online survey were asked about the challenges they face in purchasing and / or implementing cloud initiatives. Forty-four percent of those who have implemented cloud initiatives rated network security as the top challenge, followed by security mandate compliance (36 percent), data loss prevention (35 percent) and hardware security (35 percent).

The goals of CompTIA’s research are to assess key challenges government organizations face in determining their IT purchases; determine which IT products and services agencies plan to purchase; and understand the areas of training and budget allocation for the next 12 months. A significant number of respondents, 54 percent, said the need to comply with a mandate or regulation is a driving factor in IT spending. Other top purchase influencers include responding to the needs of citizens and staff (53 percent); and the need to modernize aging systems (47 percent), especially systems that are vulnerable to security threats due to dated technology. “With money to spend increasingly precious, agencies are likely to demand greater returns on their investments and require vendors to clearly prove the effectiveness of their solutions,” said Amy Carrado, Director, Market Research, CompTIA.

Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) of federal, state and local government IT decision makers and influencers identified new data backup and recovery solutions as a priority over the next 12 months. Security applications were cited by 37 percent of respondents, followed by virtualization solutions (30 percent) and content management solutions (24 percent). Options such as unified communications and cloud computing (18 percent each) ranked slightly lower on the list. “This may be a signal that government users need further education from their IT providers on how cloud computing and unified communications can effectively address their objectives of greater operational efficiencies,” Carrado said.

Among specific products on government shopping lists, desktop PCs (51 percent) and laptop PCs (48 percent) hold the top two spots, according to the CompTIA study. Local government agencies are especially bullish on purchases of new PCs, including tablet PCs. Other purchase priorities for the next 12 months include servers (37 percent), printers (33 percent), operating systems (32 percent), productivity suites and software (28 percent), network infrastructure (27 percent) and smart phones (23 percent).

Nearly half (44 percent) of government IT respondents at the federal, state and local levels plan to implement employee training—for both IT staff and end users—over the next 12 months. “This suggests that even under severe budget constraints, government agencies continue to recognize the importance of a well-trained workforce that understands how to effectively use technology,” Carrado said. Among the training priorities: PC maintenance, help desk and tech support; security; disaster recovery and backup; and networking. Project management, business intelligence and data management and analysis also appear on the training priority list. Increased interest by government agencies in training is something that technology vendors and solution providers should note, according to Carrado. “Technology providers should consider providing training sessions as a value-add when government organizations purchase a product, or offering mini-tutorials to employees at agencies where there is potential for purchases in the near future,” she said.

(SIDEBAR)
CompTIA’s Second Annual Government IT Purchase Plans Study

Top three challenges agencies face over the next 12 months: 1) Reduced budgets / lack of resources - 73% 2) Bureaucracy / difficulty implementing change - 70% 3) Rapidly changing technology landscape - 48%

Top three influencers of government IT purchases over the next 12 months: 1) Becoming more cost efficient / reduce costs - 60% 2) Compliance with a mandate or regulation - 54% 3) Responding to needs of staff and / or end users - 53%

Top purchases / implementations over the next 12 months: 1) Desktop PCs - 51% 2) Laptop PCs - 48% 3) Servers - 37% 12) Security hardware - 12%

CDW-G Poll

CDW Government LLC (CDW-G), a leading source of technology solutions to government, education and healthcare customers, announced the results of its first Cloud Computing Tracking Poll, an assessment of current and future cloud computing use in business, government, healthcare and education based on a survey of 1,200 IT professionals familiar with their organization’s use of, or plans for, cloud computing.

The CDW-G Cloud Computing Tracking Poll includes findings specific to each of the eight industries surveyed during March 2011: small businesses, medium businesses, large businesses, the Federal government, state and local governments, healthcare, higher education and K-12 public schools. The survey sample includes 150 individuals from each industry who identified themselves as familiar with their organization’s use of, or plans for, cloud computing

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. organizations are using cloud computing today, CDW-G found, with most reporting (73 percent) that their first step into the cloud was implementation of a single cloud application. While many organizations (84 percent) say they have already employed at least one cloud application, most do not yet identify themselves as cloud users who are implementing or maintaining cloud computing.
 
CDW-G defines cloud computing as a model for enabling convenient, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned. “Many organizations are carefully—and selectively—moving into cloud computing, as well they should, because it represents a significant shift in how computing resources are provided and managed,” said David Cottingham, senior director, managed services at CDW. “With thoughtful planning, organizations can realize benefits that align directly with their organizational goals: consolidated IT infrastructure, reduced IT energy and capital costs, and ‘anywhere’ access to documents and applications.”

Applications most commonly operated in the cloud are commodity applications such as e-mail (50 percent of cloud users), file storage (39 percent), web and video conferencing (36 and 32 percent), and online learning (34 percent). Respondents estimated that, on average, only 42 percent of their current services and applications have potential to operate in the cloud. Even the respondents who identified themselves as cloud users—currently implementing or maintaining cloud computing—said they expect to spend no more than one-third of their IT budget (34 percent) on cloud computing by 2016, and at the same time, to save 31 percent of their IT budget by using cloud resources and applications. Non-cloud users said they expect to spend slightly more than one-quarter of their IT budget (28 percent) on cloud computing by 2016, and to save 23 percent by using cloud computing resources and applications.

Among current cloud users, 84 percent said they cut application costs by moving to the cloud. On average, cloud users report saving 21 percent annually on those applications moved to the cloud. “The potential to cut costs while maintaining or even enhancing computing capabilities for end users presents a compelling case for investment in cloud computing,” Cottingham said. “The fact that even current cloud users anticipate spending just a third of their IT budget on cloud computing within five years suggests that before wide-scale implementation, IT managers are taking a hard look at their IT governance, architecture, security and other prerequisites for cloud computing, in order to ensure that their implementations are successful.”

(SIDEBAR)
Panasonic

According to Scott French, Vice President, Public Sector, Panasonic Solutions Company, one of the most important IT policy issues we see public sector organizations evaluating today is the decision to shift to cloud computing. Cloud computing offers the promise of giant gains in productivity and efficiency, and because of budget and resource strains placed on public sector organizations, the promise is appealing. Once a question of “if,” advancements in security, implementation and management have made cloud services inevitable. Now, public sector organizations are seeking best practices for evaluation and deployment.

Some of these best practices were outlined in a recent report from the TechAmerica Foundation. Panasonic is a member company. With the support of member organizations and academia, the Foundation presented findings from its Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD2). The publicly available report included practical evaluation and guidance for the successful implementation of cloud computing technologies. These findings supported earlier reports from the CIO Council that showed illustrative case studies of the cost and efficiency savings in the public sector because of cloud computing.

For example, the CIO Council highlighted the technology transformation of the State of Utah. Previously, applications resided on about 1,800 physical servers in 35 physical locations. By December 2010, the state moved these applications to a virtual cloud platform of 400 servers, saving $4 million in annual costs for a state IT budget of only $150 million. As the promise of cloud computing becomes a reality on the infrastructure and application side, this solution opens new doors for solution providers like Panasonic who can help organizations access information from locations outside department walls.

Organizations Panasonic works with have deployed solutions such as their Toughbook fully-rugged laptop computers in significant numbers to securely and reliably access information wherever their job takes them. For example, the Tulsa Police Department faced three simultaneous challenges: equip its officers with ultra-portable computers, jumpstart an e-ticketing project, and upgrade their slow wireless network to maximize productivity and provide consistent Internet access for officers across the city.
 
Panasonic and Sprint helped Tulsa PD find the right technologies for their specific requirements, centered on two complementary products—the Panasonic Toughbook U1 and the Permanent Display Removable Computer (PDRC)—as an in- and out-of-vehicle computing solution. The U1 seamlessly connects to the PDRC, which combines a vehicle-mounted display and full-functioning keyboard for heightened capabilities inside police vehicles. The U1’s embedded wireless technology accesses the Sprint broadband network, providing a strong signal for officers to obtain images, file reports, and utilize eCitation software from regions that used to be dead zones. The force moved from pen-and-paper based processes to electronic arrest reports and tickets, significantly increasing productivity, increasing officer safety and minimizing errors, therefore increasing revenue capture. “We’re seeing continued excitement for mobile solutions that take advantage of the freedoms afforded by cloud computing,” French said.

In Panasonic’s public sector divisions, from emergency operations centers and dispatch, through in-vehicle and mobile data collection and enforcement, organizations are using technology to deliver faster service, easier access, and greater problem-solving innovation. However, with this excitement for technology, comes close emphasis on challenges that may hinder deployment. “Threats to information security have never been higher and we are constantly working to ensure that our solutions provide the highest levels of threat protection,” French stated. However, the benefits of cloud computing and mobility in the long run are considerable and the long-term investment in solutions now should translate into more time to serve the public good.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2011

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