Fla. city takes secure path to Google cloud

Officials in Panama City, Fla., have added an extra layer of security to lock down Google Docs, ensuring that documents are securely archived and that only authorized information is published for public viewing.

Google Docs makes documents more accessible and portable for organizations, putting the creation and publishing of documents in the hands of users. The Web-based office suite and data storage service lets users create and edit documents online while collaborating in real time with other users. As a result, managers charged with keeping sensitive documents protected from unauthorized viewing could lose control over how documents are shared within and outside of their organizations.

To gain control over their Google Docs domain, Panama City administrators purchased CloudLock for Google Apps, software available from Google Marketplace, developed by CloudLock of Waltham, Mass.

“Really, without using CloudLock, Google Docs, in my opinion, is not an enterprise-level product,” said Richard Ferrick, network administrator for Panama City, a city of 36,000 residents in northwest Florida.

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The software simplified the process of downloading documents from Google Docs when users within city agencies left their jobs or were terminated, he said. Ferrick would have to log in as the user to see which files were stored in the cloud and then download them to a .zip file. Now as an administrator, Ferrick can log in to the CloudLock interface and transfer documents at a click of a button.

Plus, “I have the ability to see who is sharing documents internally or externally for public viewing,” Ferrick said. “I have [CloudLock] set up where it gives me a nightly report on documents that are being shared publicly, the title of the documents and who is sharing” them. If there is a question about whether a document should be shared, he can contact the owner of the document, he added.

CloudLock for Google Apps runs on Google App Engine, the company's cloud platform. The cloud-based software is accessed over an encrypted transport. Documents are retrieved using secure published Google Docs application programming interfaces as well as the encrypted transport to eliminate security breaches.

Panama City’s first foray into the cloud was with e-mail, Ferrick said. Three years ago, all city agencies were moved off the city’s aging Lotus Notes e-mail system to Google Apps. At that time, Google did not have all of the APIs now available to simplify that transition, Ferrick said.

“We pulled some tricks on the [Lotus] Domino server to transfer all the mail over,” he said. “I am not aware of losing any data during the transfer.” The city initially used Google Apps standard edition but is now using Google Apps for Government.

At first, the focus was just on e-mail. Google Docs was an added incentive because city management did not want to upgrade from Microsoft Office 97. “This was 2007 when we were looking at this and we were still using Office 97,” Ferrick said.

As time progressed, more agency users started using Google Docs. But the move to Google’s office suite took off when Microsoft introduced Office 2007. Users could not open Office 2007’s doc.x documents with Office 97. So they began using Google Docs to open those types of documents, he said.

Ferrick also started to use Google Sites to host the city’s public-facing website. That gave users in different departments the ability to update their portion of Web pages without having HTML experience. Google Docs was incorporated with Google Sites, allowing, for example, the city’s human resources staff to post job openings online.

The HR staff created a spreadsheet with job openings that was embedded into Google Sites. Whenever a change is made on the spreadsheet, it is automatically made on the city website. Before this, HR had to send the document to Ferrick to post because he and another IT person were the only ones who knew how to use Adobe Dreamweaver, a Web application development platform.

The move to the cloud has freed up the three-person IT staff to focus on other projects. For instance, many public meetings are broadcast live, streamed over the Internet, Ferrick said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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