Is a Storm Brewing in Your Cloud?
Posted on September 29, 2020 by John Chiaramonte
The COVID-19 global pandemic has thrust cloud computing into the spotlight, with everything from primary education, to business meetings, to government operations moving “into the cloud.” We’ve highlighted how the benefits of cloud-based applications are clear: lower total cost of ownership, enhanced scalability and flexibility, and the ability to shift the maintenance responsibility to the service provider. Cloud-based applications are easy to update, are available anywhere network connectivity exists, and often are more secure and reliable than a premises-based solution.
There’s comfort in knowing that dedicated people are working 24 x 7 x 365 for cloud-based service providers to maintain your mission-critical solution—which is more than your 40-hours-a-week information technology (IT) person who is on call. Furthermore, this person often is shared with all other county departments, which limits his/her availability to serve your specific needs.
Other cloud-computing benefits include eliminating the need to budget for hardware refreshes, software upgrades, patch installations and routine maintenance, because those costs have been factored into the service’s subscription fees.
Notable Wins for Public Safety Cloud Vendors
We’re all hearing a lot about cloud computing right now and there are several new and emerging solutions for the public safety community. Providers of cloud-based, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and records management systems (RMS) have existed for years and, with some recent notable wins, increasingly are being accepted throughout the community. Other aspects of 911 operations have, or will be, cloud-enabled—clearly these innovative products are absolutely critical to improving and enhancing public safety.
Faster adoption of new technology will lead to better decision-making, which will improve emergency response outcomes. This is the key measure of how well jurisdictions are protecting their residents, workers, and visitors. Historically, public safety has been slow to embrace cutting-edge technologies, opting to wait for these systems to become completely reliable.
Sometimes though, in the excitement about new technology and the added benefits it offers, we lose sight of the drawbacks. Whether on premises or in the cloud, these systems can be compromised and/or fail—and when in the cloud, the responsibility and/or ability to restore service typically falls outside of your control.
An Expanding Field of Damage
As we transition to more centrally managed 911 solutions, the potential “field of damage” will expand exponentially. Past outages were typically more localized, affecting a single ECC, and often attributed to connectivity interruptions, e.g., a backhoe digging up a non-redundant fiber-optic line. Now, we are starting to see statewide and multistate outages that are affecting tens of millions of people, versus tens of thousands of people.
This is not to discourage innovation—far from it. Mission Critical Partners actively is assisting our clients in evaluating and procuring cloud-based solutions. However, one critical aspect of the expert assistance that we are providing is the emphasis on continuity of operations (COOP) and disaster recovery (DR) planning to mitigate any potential compromises and outages. It is more important now than ever to understand the limitations (and opportunities) of these solutions, to enable local officials to make good decisions before transitioning to new technologies.
Moreover, as our clients in the states of Texas and Minnesota recently described, a fundamental need also exists for a “crisis communications plan.” We saw on the evening of September 28, why this is so. A multistate 911 outage occurred, and many local communities were trying to communicate rapidly with the public via social media to provide alternate telephone numbers to access 911. However, Minnesota was one of the first to announce the trouble, executing its defined crisis communications plan to alert its stakeholders. This is a model for how to communicate and share this essential information.
We will be tracking this latest outage and will be interested in reviewing a root-cause analysis to help our clients prepare for, and respond to, future outages. While we remain excited about cloud-based solutions, preparation and training is the key to success. When problems arise, the ability to return to normal operations quickly and effectively is paramount.