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Bringing the Cloud to Your Community

Today, state and local governments are increasingly turning to cloud technologies to improve efficiency and provide a wide range of services to their communities. GovLoop recently held the State & Local Gov Innovators Virtual Summit, where participants learned how various state and local agencies have pursued innovation by utilizing data analytics, the cloud, intelligence and other hybrid solutions.

During the session “How the Cloud Brings Innovation to Your Community,” Brian Tracy, Senior Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services Public Sector, and Chris Adzima, Senior Information Systems Analyst for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, discussed the benefits of cloud computing and its real-world applications.

Cloud computing provides a simple way to access servers, storage, databases and other application services over the internet. A cloud services platform, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), owns and maintains the network-connected hardware and infrastructure. Customers can then deploy their workloads onto AWS, determining what resources they need and paying for those particular services.

This means that one immediate and significant benefit to using cloud computing is the low cost. The flexible, dynamic nature of cloud computing also allows government to move more quickly, be more agile and easily replicate successful programs and applications.

“Programmable infrastructure has revolutionized IT,” Tracy said. Agencies are able to “fail fast,” quickly prototype their ideas and test them out without sinking large amounts of capital. AWS’s extensive infrastructure makes moving data and applications very simple, which also provides a high level of resiliency and availability.

Tracy noted that, in his experience, state and local governments across the country tend to start small when first implementing cloud technology. Later on, governments can begin to utilize core services, such as computing, storage, database and a virtual private cloud. Organizations can eventually move all the way up to deploying more complex workloads, including continuity of operations, disaster recovery (DR) and replication of domain controllers.

“AWS builds all of these capabilities for you, which means you don’t have to become a deep, subject-matter expert in every technology you want to implement,” said Tracy.

How Washington County Uses AWS

Adzima shared an in-depth case study of how his local Washington County police department in Oregon utilized AWS to improve policing and community safety. The Sheriff’s Office used AWS’s Rekognition technology, a learning-based image analysis program, to determine the identities of people in surveillance footage.

The facial-recognition software indexed over 300,000 booking photos for Washington County, which had been uploaded to S3 (an Amazon storage service). The department was also able to create an accompanying mobile application, through which deputies could upload pictures directly from their phones, do a search and receive immediate results. “It’s one more key tool in the detectives’ toolbox,” Adzima said.

Such technology has promising implications for community safety as a whole. Adzima described an ongoing project for the department, called Help Me Home, which would allow people in the community to register their loved ones into the database. Individuals at high risk of getting lost—such as elderly people with Alzheimer’s or children with autism spectrum disorders—could be quickly found and identified.

Security and compliance in the cloud are always chief concerns across agencies, but Tracy emphasized that “AWS works to achieve certification in all regulatory aspects and helps customers design their workloads to be compliant with those certifications.” AWS makes a broad set of services available to secure agencies’ data and sensitive information, including encryption tools, web application firewalls, the virtual private cloud and identity and management tools.

According to Tracy, the fear and negative perceptions surrounding the cloud have gradually shifted. “We have fewer conversations about security because, by and large, the population now understands that security in the cloud isn’t scary or non-existent. Security is a paramount concern for us.”

In the case of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Adzima provided an example of how the department was able to place appropriate permissions on each image in its database. The ability to search and view secured data is restricted to other law enforcement agencies and authorized users.

For smaller agencies and organizations thinking about moving to the cloud, Adzima encouraged taking the leap. “You have to just get out there and get your hands dirty. Don’t worry too much about failing.”

Adzima emphasized that making the switch to the cloud is easy and readily doable. “You don’t have to be a developer or data scientist to take advantage of the cloud. With this technology, anyone can leverage powerful services you might not have been able to use otherwise.”

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