Cloud workshop sparks discussion among municipalities

MISA eventleducThe prairies chapter of the Municipal Information Systems Association of Canada (MISA) hosted its fall workshop on '€˜Shortening the distance to the cloud'€™ last week in Leduc, Alberta. The group is geared towards the IT managers in western Canadian municipalities, and meets one or two times a year to share best practices and technology tips. Representatives from around 27 municipalities attended last weeks'€™ event.

Cybera led the day'€™s sessions and presented an overview of the benefits of cloud-based services (such as flexibility, scalability, types of cloud, privacy and data considerations, cost, etc). Staff also related their experiences with implementing shared services at multiple institutions, such as the Learning Management Cloud (LMC) and Federated ID.

The LMC is a cloud-based learning management system (a tool that helps students organize and track their schedules, interact with teachers, and see their final grades) that can be shared by multiple institutions. Users of this system include the University of Alberta and NAIT. Federated ID essentially links a person's electronic identity and attributes, storing them across multiple distinct management systems. It'€™s basically a central service that lets you login to various accounts – we'€™re working with CANARIE to open up universal access across public institutions in Alberta.

Cybera'€™s President and CEO, Robin Winsor, gave the opening talk at the MISA event, and he emphasized the importance of building and using modern infrastructure.

'€œIt isn'€™t the networks that matter, it'€™s what you do with them.'€ '€“ Robin Winsor

Cybera'€™s staff also led discussions about the use of virtualization services at municipalities.

A panel discussion took place on the strategic issues involved with implementing cloud and shared services. The panelists included Harpreet Dhillon, Program Manager for Cloud Computing and Open Source Services for the City of Calgary, and Tony Thul, Digital Information Architect for the City of Regina, who described their cloud services adoption experiences. Harpreet said Calgary has been using OpenStack for 10 years, so clearly they are open to cloud. The biggest challenge for them lies in the fact that the City can'€™t adopt cloud services without first getting community and commercial support.

Tony said the idea of cloud computing in the City of Regina at first challenged the comfort level, but it eventually found support.

The issue of '€˜vendor independence'€™ was also brought up. Attendees were wary of  '€œdictatorial'€ vendors who over-specify hardware and overcharge their clients. They agreed the key to avoiding this challenge lies in increasing awareness and vendor information sharing.

As Robin mentioned during the workshop, '€œThere is still a perception problem in cloud computing.'€ There still seems to be a lot of unease among many organizations with what is seen as a '€œnew'€ technology, particularly when it comes to security and privacy. But as more municipalities adopt cloud, and the list of successful use cases grows, the worries over cloud should ease. For now, municipalities, big or small, can be an example for others by making the right decisions for their technological needs. These decisions should be based on the information available from multiple trusted and successful use cases today, rather than based on outdated notions of what has always worked before. It'€™s time to leave the past behind, so we can keep up with the present and beyond.