cloud migration

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How the cloud helped move Corona, Calif., to ‘government on demand’

One of the lessons learned from COVID-19 is that a well-executed business continuity strategy can mean the difference between quickly shifting to delivering essential services via the cloud and suffering painful delays as a workforce transitions to remote virtual desktops.  Agencies that were already operating primarily via a cloud infrastructure, and that had a well-defined plan for running more servers in the cloud to respond to a disruptive event, were able to effectively make the transition. 

Further, it shows the importance of developing and managing a total cloud workspace environment that not only efficiently supports cloud workloads but also provides a user endpoint experience that is data-secure and productive. 

Embracing the concept and execution of a cloud workspace can be challenging.  It requires moving an agency employees’ mindsets about working on a traditional static desktop to an understanding that their desktop is now virtual and accessed via an endpoint device (i.e. laptop or desktop computer) while all their data and particular user profile resides in the cloud.  For agencies that use a thin-client-type endpoint solution, it means employees’ computers start as with new image every day or upon each restart.  Mitigating security risks, protecting user access and enabling global software updates are some of the key benefits.  

Driving business continuity with the cloud

The City of Corona, Calif., has proved the answer to surviving a crisis like COVID-19 is a solid business continuity strategy.  Ironically, another crisis helped spur the approach. 

When a fire broke out in the city in 2018, the Corona's CIO team had to remotely open an emergency operations center and work over the phone.  City officials soon realized they needed a more rapid, robust solution, and they began to consider a move to the cloud and the adoption of cloud workspaces.

Corona developed a cloud workspace structure that included a centralized endpoint management solution, a virtualization platform and Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) hosted in Azure Government.  By the time COVID-19 hit, 80% of the city’s internal servers were already in the cloud.  The next step was a full court press – scaling up more cloud servers to support virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) workloads and using an endpoint management solution to enable rapid movement of desktops to the cloud.

Creating government on demand

Wholesale cloud migration at first was a challenge that became a big benefit.  For Corona’s 800 employees “telecommuting was a cultural change, but it opened the door to a different kind of workforce,” CIO Chris McMasters said. “Our employees can work more flexible hours to accommodate requests. We can do government on demand.”

The city employees found out they love the flexibility.  “We don’t have to be just an 8-to-5 shop, and it has allowed people to keep a paycheck,” Deputy CIO Kyle Edgeworth said.  After executing first stage response to keep all essential services running, the city found it was able to keep other services open --and people fully employed -- by telecommuting via the cloud.

Developing productive cloud workspaces

Based on Corona’s experience, other local governments should consider putting together a cloud-based business continuity strategy employing cloud workspaces that includes:

1. Evaluating business continuity readiness. The city’s plan covers earthquakes and any other form of disruption, illustrating that business continuity requires designing a network with scale and elasticity – one that can be quickly scaled up via the cloud to ensure essential services continue.

2. Picking the right cloud hosting provider.CIOs should now assess whether their current cloud service provider agreement will allow adequate scaling when an event strikes or whether another provider can be more cost-effective.  The cloud can be costly as data storage piles up. 

3. Getting the desktop under control. When COVID-19 struck “states were buying up thousands of laptops at a time. Corona went another route by repurposing its current infrastructure, using a Linux OS endpoint solution to refresh existing hardware. Ultimately, employees were able to use multiple devices (i.e. their laptop or desktop computer at home) to access their user profile and applications spun up in the cloud. The solution also eliminated concerns about hardware failing, further ensuring business continuity of essential services.

4. Aligning remote workflows with on-premises standards. Employees who normally worked on-site at desktops will expect a remote user experience to meet their expectations of access and productivity.  In becoming virtual, the endpoint management solution chosen must enable the desired internet access speed, application access, sign-on speed and user profile access that supports user satisfaction.  If there are issues, Gartner suggests organizations alleviate IT help desk inquiries by establishing an online, internal collaboration community to share problems or ideas.  These may lead to a resolution for some issues and, with so many working remotely, could foster some productive problem solving. 

5. Meeting compliance and security regulations. Ensuring all data flowing back and forth from the cloud is secure is a daily fact of life for government agencies. The cloud provider and all endpoint solutions and devices must meet strict security standards, so agencies should look for platforms with highly secure hosting and compliance with cloud security standards. 

On the subject, a survey from Enterprise Strategy Group reported that security continues to be a top reason for choosing VDI and desktop-as-a-service solutions.  In fact, nearly all organizations reported that security is a top purchase criterion for a digital workspace -- with 53% saying it’s critical and 45% saying it’s important.

Security-conscious organizations are looking to solutions like a Linux OS, which is resistant to viruses and other malware and takes the risk and challenge of detecting and responding to endpoint security breaches down to the absolute minimum.

Getting ahead of the next event

Corona’s VDI use case illustrates how a city can enact a relatively smooth transition to a remote workforce thanks to solid business continuity planning and execution.  For smaller government entities, without staff or budgets to buy up new devices during a crisis, being able to ‘work with what you have’ can mean the difference between seamless essential services continuity and a stutter step of execution problems.  At the heart of this strategy is a well-designed cloud workspace infrastructure capable of not only scaling quickly but delivering a secure user experience to a workforce responding to crisis-driven change.

About the Author

Simon Clephan is VP of business development and strategic alliances with IGEL.

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