The Borough of West Chester Enters The “Cloud”

During the past several years cloud computing has taken off in the technology industry. In fact the concept of cloud computing is quite old.

As far back as 1961 cloud computing was being described by the likes of Professor John McCarthy (pictured right in 2006). McCarthy described his vision of computer programs being distributed to the community in the same manner as a utility with customers simply paying for what they use. This vision of McCarthy’s was actually quite popular and accepted in the 1960’s. However by the mid 1970’s it was clear that hardware and software companies were simply not ready to provide such a service.

Beginning in the early 2000’s the idea of cloud computing had resurfaced and with each passing year the surge to cloud computing continued to increase. This move towards cloud computing is driven by many factors, with perhaps the most crucial justification being cost savings. Computer hardware (servers) and licensing costs can seriously challenge an organization’s budget. For example, a server capable of running Microsoft’s Exchange (email) service can cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The cost does stop there however. The organization must also purchase Microsoft’s Exchange (email) operating system as well as Microsoft’s server (operating system) software. These costs can tack another $5,000 onto the mail server. We are not done yet! Microsoft licensing fees must also be purchased. These are what are known as CALs (not Cows!). CAL is the abbreviation for “Client Access License”. The organization must also pay a license fee for each and every user who has an email account. The current government cost is about $54.00 each (and this is discounted). In the case of the Borough of West Chester who has 150 email users another $8,000 is added to the cost of running a mail server.

Now that the server is purchased it has to be installed, updated and maintained. In addition email accounts need to be backed up and archived daily. All of this is very critical because email has become a crucial part of how we communicate. Maintaining this service can be very taxing on an IT department.

All of these factors plus countless others are inspiring organizations and companies to explore the possibility of cloud computing in respect to email services.

The Borough of West Chester has an information technology staff of one (1). This includes managing 8 primary servers, 6 secondary servers, 80+ workstations, 150 users, telecommunications, wireless services and police communications. So you can see why cloud computing for email services is appealing to the borough. The smaller the IT staff, the smaller the cost to the organization and in the case of government, the taxpayers. Small is good. However maintaining small IT staffing can only be possible by streamlining, when possible networking services.

So what is cloud computing exactly? I believe you can simply define cloud computing as anytime your data is stored offsite at a data center. The contractual agreement between the organization (West Chester) who owns the data and the cloud provider (Microsoft) will usually include data management, backup, archiving and data security through the use of secure and multiple data centers. This reduces hardware cost for the organization and allows the organization to free up and possibly reduce information technology staff while continuing to provide efficient service to it’s users. Maintaining offsite data is especially critical keeping in mind the possibility of natural disasters and terrorism.

The Borough of West Chester in an effort to continue controlling its information technology cost is moving it’s email to the cloud with Microsoft as it’s cloud provider this spring. Users will continue to use Microsoft Outlook to access their email so there will be no interruption in work or a need to learn a new system. However by moving email to the cloud the borough will be able to continue maintaining a low information technology cost, which is about 1% of the entire budget.

With the expected success of the email migration to the cloud other cloud solutions will continue to be explored in the future in an effort to continue providing the best service while simultaneously controlling cost.

Perhaps our future is really in the cloud just like John McCarthy first visioned 50 years ago.

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