Data Centers, 7 Dying Technologies and a Broadband Partnership

Plus: the expansion of Boston's hotline app and more
by | January 8, 2013

Edited by Tod Newcombe

Are government data centers becoming passé? Not yet, but a good number of chief information officers would like to get rid of the expensive centers and move their data, systems and applications into the information technology cloud. Throughout 2012, a growing number of states and localities began to do just that. Consider:

  • In March, Minnesota finished moving almost 40,000 workers in more than 70 state agencies to Microsoft’s cloud-based software program for email services and collaboration tools.
  • In October, CIO Kristin Russell announced that the state of Colorado had moved its 26,000 member workforce to Google’s suite of office applications. At the same time, the Rocky Mountain state has partnered with Montana, Oregon and Utah to award contracts for shared cloud-based storage.
  • Earlier this year, Texas CIO Karen Robinson signed a series of multiyear data center service contracts, outsourcing the Lone Star state’s massive data management needs.

How quickly other state and local governments move in this direction depends on a number of factors. Perhaps the biggest challenge to replacing data centers with cloud services is the traditional business model where government IT departments support themselves by charging other agencies fees for computing time. That’s a cash cow that may take work to replace.

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Another obstacle will be reconciling the on-demand service model that cloud computing provides with the rigid federal cost-allocation rules for funding IT systems that operate social services, transportation, public safety and health care programs. “The color of money is still a big issue,” says Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO. “CIOs could be a lot more flexible and innovative if they didn’t have those constraints.”

Boston’s hotline app has been such a success, the state wants to expand its use. Known as Citizens Connect, the software app, which runs on smart phones and other mobile devices, serves as a 311 tool that allows users to report problems, such as graffiti, potholes and abandoned vehicles. Thanks to a $400,000 grant, 36 municipalities have been selected by the state to use a similar app, according to Boston CIO, Bill Oates.

While each municipality will get its own app, the system will be linked so users can report problems for whichever city they are physically in. In Boston, the Citizens Connect app was used to resolve more than 35,000 issues since its launch in 2009. Funding for the statewide program comes from the Community Innovation Challenge Grant Program. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of March 2013.

Is it time to say goodbye to these tech ideas? Here’s a list of 7 technologies that just might not be around this time next year, according to CIO.com’s John Brandon:

1. Legacy applications: The days when you loaded a piece of software on a computer are disappearing. Experts predict the virtual trend, where software is a service you pay for via subscriptions, will become the norm.

2. Mobile Applications: As mobile phones get smarter, customized information on the home screen will eclipse the need for a local weather app or an app from your local news station. You'll access the same information, without needing to manage any apps.

3. Traditional Desktops: There's little dissent among experts predicting the demise of the time-honored desktop. Virtual desktops pulling information from the cloud benefit from a more consistent user experience across devices.

4. BlackBerry Smartphones: CIO.com cites operating system upgrade delays, high-level staff turnover and a weak showing from the company's venture into tablet computing as minor compared to the platform's inability to span consumer's personal and professional identities. In summary, "... having a dedicated business phone that won't play Angry Birds doesn't make sense anymore."

5. Windows Phones: This list declares Android and iPhone the winners in the consumer smartphone market. While acknowledging the Windows phone's successful integration with Windows 8 and Surface tablets, the most generous analysts only give Microsoft's smartphone 13 percent market share by 2017.

6. Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Systems: Another traditional office technology waning in popularity is the desk phone system linked to a corporate data center, Brandon claims. High operating and maintenance costs, coupled with employees' preference for their own phones, are contributing to this trend.

7. Fax Machines: When's the last time you used a fax machine? The widespread adoption of digital signature technologies represent the nail in the coffin on these soon-to-be collector's items.

Seattle is the latest city to form a partnership as a way to bring broadband to the masses. The city and the University of Washington on Thursday, Dec. 13, announced their partnership with broadband provider Gigabit Squared to develop an ultra high-speed broadband network in Seattle neighborhoods.

The fiber-to-the-home/fiber-to-the-business network will leverage Seattle’s unused fiber, also known as dark fiber. The beginning phase will include a demonstration in 12 Seattle neighborhoods, which were chosen based on multiple factors, such as proximity to both existing dark fiber and University of Washington campuses and housing.

Seattle’s announcement follows on the heels of a number of projects that involve cities and ultra high-speed Internet access. Two years ago, Google announced plans to bring ultra high-speed broadband to a select number of cities around the country. So far, trials are underway in Kansas City, Mo. IBM and Cisco have also announced similar projects that involve the development of fast Internet access to certain cities. Globally, ultra high-speed Internet has become more common, with countries like South Korea leading the way.

“This is a very promising proposal that can help bring 21st century infrastructure to Seattle,” said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in a press release.

According to a city report, no additional city dollars will be spent on the broadband project. Gigabit Squared will pay to lay fiber -- more than 200 miles that will reach more than 50,000 households and businesses -- and will rent the unused fiber from the city, creating a revenue stream for Seattle. Service plans will start at 20 megabits per second up to 1 Gigabit per second.

The company also plans to provide dedicated, gigabit-speed radio connections to speed deployment to housing and businesses where fiber isn’t readily available, as well as high-speed wireless Internet access to subscribers in the 12 demonstration neighborhoods.

Once 15 percent of residents in the 12 demonstration neighborhoods sign up for broadband service, Gigabit Squared will deploy a phased rollout of the fiber services to the rest of the city.

Gigabit Squared plans to make the service available to 100,000 residents by the end of 2014, and intends for the network to remain in place for at least 10 years.

“We are lighting up our dark fiber that was deployed decades ago to bring more choices to our residents and businesses,” said Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the Seattle mayor’s office. “This will help Seattle compete in the global economy now and in the future.”

Information for this newsletter was compiled from news reports published by GovTech.com.

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