“We were at a point where we were looking for new hardware and we thought we might try the Cloud environment out,” said Mike Schonlau, GIS Coordinator for Douglas County. In late 2010, the city and county attended a presentation promoting Esri’s ArcGIS Server in the Amazon Cloud. Their glance quickly became a serious look at the feasibility of administering resources within a Cloud environment and potential impacts on functionality and cost. As they began looking at replacing physical hardware in the offices, everything fell into place.
“We started getting familiar with the environment and how it worked and we really liked the flexibility,” explained Schonlau. “And since that time, we’ve moved almost all of our production web applications up there, as well as our enterprise geodatabase. Today, we’re probably 90-95% fully implemented in the Cloud environment.”
Migrating to a Cloud Environment
Flexibility and cost were the driving forces behind their move to the Cloud. The Cloud presented a very cost-competitive, long-term alternative, while the inherent flexibility offered a compelling means to deploy throughout the enterprises. County and city staff are spread out across several office locations, creating network and server access issues. With an array of servers scattered among their respective offices, they looked for a way to simplify their IT infrastructure.
“It’s not unusual for us (IT/GIS) to work nights and weekends from home and the Cloud makes that easy. It doesn’t matter where we are, we’re able to fully access our resources.” Cityworks users are now able to access information from anywhere.
How the Cloud Works
“The cloud works not much different than the way a typical IT data center works,” explains Schonlau. “Anyone can sign up to use the Amazon Cloud. You simply create an Amazon Web Services account and, from there, you choose from one of several preconfigured servers—including some Esri has published that already have ArcGIS installed.” Omaha and Douglas County had a choice of servers they could spin up in the virtual environment. They simply loaded whatever software they wanted to use and configured it to their needs.
Because the back-office IT is provided by Amazon, concerns like backup power, data redundancy, fail over, and Internet connectivity no longer needed the city/county’s attention. This alone allowed them to focus more on applications and supporting data with far less time supporting the computing infrastructure.
“We’re in a situation now where we use remote desktop tools to connect to our servers from wherever we are—the office, home, mobile devices. And we can administer those machines from wherever.”
“Another huge benefit of the Cloud is in fail over redundancy,” Schonlau continued. “We’re able to easily establish a full-scale test environment for installing Cityworks. For example, when Azteca Systems released Cityworks 2012, we installed it on a test server in the Amazon Cloud that same day. We’ve become an early adopter of some of the new Cityworks versions, which is another great benefit to us.”
In the event that something were to happen to a production server, the city maintains images of all their machines, keeping those in the Cloud. They have also replicated their server settings, allowing them to spin up a new version of the server in less than half an hour.
Data Storage, Access, and Editing
Most of the city and county’s GIS data is created, edited, and stored locally on their primary database. That data is then replicated to their Cloud environment on a regular basis. However, the Cityworks database is stored in the Cloud, which gives the city and county the ability to make connections directly from their network to the Cloud server. They also make use of Amazon’s S3 (data storage) service where they can upload imagery or large chunks of data and then transfer it to the Cloud server.
Testing and Evaluating Performance
In the fall of 2010, the city launched its first Amazon EC2 server instance. Though the specifications were close to what they had on their internal web server, the Cloud did not have as much ram or storage.
“In our early tests, we put some web applications up there (on the Cloud instance) along with some data, and we published that out to the web. We ran those applications side-by-side with the internal platform, and we found that the Amazon environment was actually faster and definitely more reliable.”
It didn’t take them long to recognize that Amazon’s servers are better optimized for performance than the city’s internal servers. The agencies are now pushing towards a more robust enterprise environment.
“We didn’t necessarily work within the sandbox,” Schonlau explained. “Because we had these flexible test environments, we went ahead and did a full-scale deployment of Cityworks Server. We were able to work in an actual production mode—meaning a full-scale install of Cityworks Server—finding out how it performed in terms of accessing data from the web application itself and the performance over the web. That goes right back to the flexibility of the Cloud environment—a big benefit. It kind of negates the need for working in a sandbox—another big benefit.”
The Cloud environment has delivered a notable increase in overall performance for both agencies. When breaking down the cost per hour of the Cloud environment versus owning and operating physical servers, the city discovered that it’s significantly less expensive in the Cloud.
The Cloud has helped the city and county accelerate deployment for Park Maintenance, who will soon be managing their work more effectively and tracking costs more accurately. Cityworks in the Cloud has facilitated more effective communication between agencies and departments, bringing about an increase in production and performance. In 2012, the city and county plan to deploy Cityworks from the Cloud on mobile devices.
“In the end, what it does for us is make us more nimble, more flexible, and more reliable,” Schonlau concluded. “And we can better support our customers that way.”