Interview: The dream is to enable 100% of services online: Wanganui council

Jason Simons, IT executive and program management specialist, Wanganui District Council, spoke to Computerworld NZ on the council's work with relation to Smart 21 and its dreams of enabling 100% of council services online

The next phase was that it was becoming too expensive to put the fibre as the cameras moved further and further away. Then we thought why don't we do Wi-Fi? That way you can have Wi-Fi security cameras over Wi-Fi. So we provided a Wi-Fi umbrella for our security cameras.

Of course, once you do that there are other uses. More importantly, and this is something we had to explain first to our internal people, the traffic profile of our CCTV is very much information coming in one direction – from the camera to a central location. Nothing is going the other way.

Internet access is all going the other way. So we can actually use an existing infrastructure to provide capability of Internet access flowing the other way. It doesn't cost us anything extra to do.

So who do we provide this for? The public.

Q: How have you tackled last-mile connectivity?

Because of Wanganui's geography, it literally is in a river basin. We have got three very key high points. We have got a fantastic water tower.. You can see the entire city from those three points. So last mile is if you can see the water tower you can get broadband access.

Q: Have you been tracking changes to the digital divide with the availability of Internet connectivity?

We have been tracking that. In terms of the end-user devices for customers, we provided those for free. We got some public funding for that. And the uptake there was fantastic. There were literally lines at the door when we announced it and said that it was going to be available. There were lines at the door and they went immediately. People could buy access points after that.

We literally ran the service for 18 months. And then we partnered with a commercial ISP and we transitioned from the council running the service on a best-efforts basis, to a commercially provided service, that offers a free portion and a paid-for service. That is the freemium model. You can get this for free, but if you are a bigger user then you pay for it.

But it is on a commercial basis, so actually maintenance and service, are proactively monitored as part of the ISP's service. And literally we provide that across all of Wanganui. We are expanding the hot spot areas. We are expanding where you can actually use your smartphones, laptops and smart devices.

The first place was our river front. We have got a stunning river front. And literally a lot of our travellers head there. So that is somewhere we provide free Wi-Fi access. Travellers can move around with tablets and netbooks all the time. It is amazing to go down there. We provide some Internet terminals but most of them have their own devices now. It is phenomenal.

Our focus is providing greater coverage in the future. This would be hot spot coverage, focusing on tablets and smartphones. They are so pervasive. We want to provide coverage in all the public areas – that would be malls, public parks, meeting places.

We are doing everything we can to make sure that people have access to the Internet when and where they need it. We have got very early adopters for fibre. All our schools have access to fibre. Then it is about providing fibre to businesses, and these public spaces, along with Wi-Fi often.

Q: How long have you had a relationship with Commvault?

It is coming up to four years. Day one for me was about finding a backup solution. Very key to the CIO role is that you are looking after your information and governance. You have to make sure that you are getting it right, that you are setting right backup failures, and preventing them from affecting users.

Then there was a presentation by a local VAR or reseller, that gathered a lot of enterprise customers together for the presentation on this thing called Commvault Simpana. Even though backup was my initial requirement, I did have requirements for e-discovering, for archiving and I was thinking of a way out. Backup was my first priority.

Then there was the way Commvault's Simpana did it. We were just about a 100 per cent virtualized. We have a couple of physical machines, but around 150 virtual machines at the moment. And the Snapshot technology blew me away. The fact that you could have your snapshots literally within seconds. You can restore a complete server in five minutes.

Our biggest limiting factor is bandwidth – between switches we have got 1Gigabit. That is our limiting factor. At the next refresh I am going to look at 10Gigabit. It is the just the smart way it does it.

We looked at other solutions. You go from your classic solutions that scale out to 10, 20, 30 servers, which is the environment we have. Then you also go into enterprise-class solutions. But then they are very much single silos, single point solutions, which are great. If you want a backup solution, it will do this. I can't afford to that. I would love to, but I can't afford to do that.

It also doesn't make sense because you have got finite resources in terms of your system engineers. They are precious as gold. Having them involved in the bread-and-butter of how the backups work or why didn't they work everyday is an absolute waste of their time.

Having something that works, and is reliable and you have got a high confidence level internally that it is working is vitally important. And the fact that this roadmap of services that I need to provide, in terms of backup, archiving, e-discovery, search, the fact that with one solution I have got all of that, even though I am not ready to roll all of them out yet.

I am not kidding. It was a no-brainer to go with an enterprise licence for that even though it would be a year until I was going to roll this out. At the moment for instance, I don't backup end-user laptops. I can. The number of laptops that we have is still in the 10s and 20s, but it will be this year that we will start to have backup agents on laptops. Everybody knows that people save information locally even though it should be saved on the server. So we will be actually deploying that at no extra cost. I don't have to do anything else. I just have to tell the systems engineers, 'right, now we are rolling this out, test it and install it'.

As for BYOD, right now, we are installing Citrix. We are installing a (mobile device management) MDM element on their device. So if someone is bringing in to our environment and want to use it, one of the quid pro quos is that we install an MDM agent on their device. And part of that will be – we are testing it at the moment – will be a backup agent for corporate data.

Backup agents will be on laptops in this financial year that finishes in June 2014. So that will be March to April time-frame.

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Tags BYODdisaster recoverybackupCitrixcommvaultSimpanamobile managementICFwanganui district councilwanganuiSmart 21Jason Simons

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