Cloud-Based Technology Helps City of Baldwin Do More With Less
Baldwin City, Kansas is a town of about 4,000 just southwest of Kansas City. About a fourth of its population is comprised of students at Baker University. The demands of a tech-savvy citizenry, combined with an IT department of one, have put a growing amount of stress on the municipality’s technology infrastructure. Over the past few years the City has worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Alexander Open Systems (AOS) to enhance performance in a cost effective manner. Initial improvements included putting in a new switch backbone and assessing new ways to identify and deliver the best class of services for all the city’s software and servers. The City is now exploring how cloud technology from Microsoft can further enhance the user experience, improve availability, continuity of operations and optimize return on investment.
Baldwin City, Kansas is in the midst of a virtualization initiative that is designed to refresh technology, improve performance and better manage the costs of the enterprise IT infrastructure. The effort not only involves consolidating redundant elements of the enterprise system, but also evaluating the role of cloud technology in the small municipality.
“I started here about six years ago and I live here in town,” explains Baldwin City’s IT Coordinator, Sean Hare. While the city had what Hare characterized as a fairly decent IT infrastructure in place when he came aboard, he teamed up with Overland Park, KS-based Alexander Open Systems (AOS) to upgrade the system.
Initial improvements included putting in a new switch backbone and assessing new ways to identify and deliver the best class of services for all the city’s software and servers. “Before we started this project, we had two networks,” Hare says.
The City Municipal network handled all the city services. The Police Department had its own separate network for its data and applications. The networks were isolated from each other and each ran its own version of Windows Small Business Server. One of the big challenges that Hare experienced was that users needed to communicate effectively back and forth across these two network infrastructures.
“I don’t have staff – it’s just me,” Hare says. “So I have to do everything – and in this situation I essentially had to do everything twice. I love the Windows Small Business Server product, but with everything being hosted on one physical box for each of those networks it caused some professional heart aches for me,” he says.
So Hare approached Jeremy Dautenhahn, Government Account Manager with AOS for help streamlining the system. They came up with an idea to move the city networks to a Microsoft’s Hyper-V platform as part of a larger storage area network (SAN) and virtualization project.
But for Baldwin City, email was one of the key things to take into consideration when doing that migration. Hare needed to ensure that he could continue to deliver consistent communication, while knocking down some of the operational barriers posed by the bifurcated network structure he was trying to consolidate.
That was particularly important for Hare since attending to all of the city’s IT requirements spread him very thin. “There’s no light on the horizon for me having a staff in a town this size,” he says. “And even though I’m not an Exchange administrator, I was doing [all the] Exchange administration for both networks and email domains.”
AOS brought Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Standard (BPOS) Suite into the discussion. Microsoft BPOS is a set of Microsoft hosted messaging and collaboration solutions, which includes Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Communications Online. These cloud-based services streamline business communication while ensuring high availability, security, and easier IT management.
Because Microsoft hosts the services, government entities like the City of Baldwin no longer need to need to maintain IT services on site. This so-called “software-plus-services” model reduces the need to manage hardware and software, boosting the value of IT dollars.
“AOS works with over 75 cities and counties in the state of Kansas and the majority of those are coming to us asking us about some sort of Cloud-based email solution; the majority of them want to do it in a Microsoft environment,” says Dautenhahn.
AOS has found that moving to the hosted Microsoft solution has actually made business sense for both large and small cities and counties.
The BPOS suite includes Exchange Online, which delivers public cloud-based e-mail services including spam filtering, anti-virus protection, and synchronization of mobile devices.
“We talked about the BPOS and Exchange Online services and that just hit the nail on the head,” recounts Hare.
“After looking at the services and doing the trial, it was obvious that it was pretty much a slam dunk. It was like hiring an exchange person without having to hire an exchange person,” he adds.
Baldwin City’s migration to Exchange Online was a huge component of the solution because the Police Department had some file and print-based applications as well as email. So any migration that took place had to eliminate any possibility of disruption.
“In the end, the migration to the BPOS Exchange Online product was seamless,” Hare says. Indeed, most city employees came in one day and used the new sign-on application without noticing any major differences from the previous environment.
“Some of them weren’t even aware that a change had been made,” Hare says. He noted that the fact that people did not notice such a dramatic operational change in the back office from a user experience perspective represents one of the biggest compliments that an IT department can get.
“I would have heard about it if it were a negative experience,” he says.
Alexander Open Systems helped the City of Baldwin migrate efficiently to the new infrastructure. “They pointed me in the right direction on many aspects of the project,” Hare says.
Perhaps the biggest recognition from users in the wake of the migration so far has come from creating a merged global address book. Now municipal and police department employees have the ability to access the address book with all the email addresses of everyone who has a city email address – as well as phone numbers and desk extensions.
“People were enthusiastic about this benefit, Hare says. “I was not expecting to get such great kudos on the address book.”
Baldwin City’s experience illustrates a broader trend – people are becoming far less hesitant to move email to the cloud. That’s because users are getting used to the look, touch and feel of Outlook Web Access (OWA) and embracing the technology.
“By virtue of not having to employ an Exchange administrator, it can obviously assist cities and counties that are smaller in size,” says Dautenhahn.
“But it’s interesting to see that the business case can also work out for large cities and counties because they do not have to do an Exchange upgrade every two to three years. As we look at the future, we know with Office 365, they will constantly be up to date and won’t have to handle the Exchange upgrades on their end.”
“Everyone knows budgets are getting tighter,” explains Hare. “But I am interested in looking at some of the other hosted applications – the productivity suite in particular.”
The City of Baldwin currently is in the middle of its virtualization migration. That includes the Exchange Online initiative. However, Hare is impressed with other aspects of the offering as well.
“I was very intrigued with the BPOS trial – the full productivity suite with Office 365,” he said. “I will be interested to explore the ability to expand our services using some of these hosted products to expand offerings to our staff and citizens in a manageable way.”