Peterborough City Council has begun pilot projects using Box cloud file-sharing services in a move that it hopes will see all council data move to cloud storage by 2015 and reduce in-house storage hardware to a bare minimum.
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The council has 1,400 full-time equivalent staff and outsources services heavily to companies such as Amey (parks and refuse), Skanska (roads), Vivacity (cultural, sports and leisure facilities) and Serco (IT services).
The council is a Microsoft user, and deploys Oracle financials and Academy for revenues and benefits, Liquidlogic and CoreLogic for social care, Northgate for records management and Confirm for highways management.
In keeping with its strategy of outsourcing large parts of its operations, the council is looking to move to a cloud IT strategy and away from on-site hardware, much of which is nearing end of life, said Richard Godfrey, ICT strategy, infrastructure and programme manager.
“We are trying to free up as much as possible,” he added. “We have an EMC SAN that will reach end of life in February 2015 and we don’t want to renew for another five years, so we’re looking at other options.”
Chief among these is the local authority's commitment to moving to the cloud.
“It makes sense to outsource to Box and the like, but these are very early days in which we’re conducting pilots while we configure the back end,” said Godfrey.
Pilot projects are being conducted among the council's 20-strong ICT team as well as a small legal team. These have involved moving employees' personal drives to the Box cloud, including data such as time sheets and leave sheets.
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Box is an online file-sharing cloud storage and collaboration service provider that includes enterprise features, such as Active Directory management and integration with Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office and other business applications.
“We want to get people used to working with the cloud, and for them to come back with issues and changes,” said Godfrey. “Then we’ll move shared and restricted drives to Box. It’s a jump for staff used to a rigid folder structure.”
In the pilot, Box will emulate the Microsoft folder structure, said Godfrey, with the user having control of folders. Users can invite third parties into folders.
“Ultimately, everything will be on Box,” he said. “But we need to work through issues to do with security and the Public Services Network (PSN) and cloud adoption.”
Besides security, one of the biggest obstacles to cloud storage adoption is concern about access times to data. Does Godfrey have any concerns about latency?
“We have no real issues with latency,” he said. “We have a deal with CityFibre, which is laying dark fibre that will start at 1Gbps and will scale to effectively unlimited bandwidth.”
Users will log on to Box via single sign-on platform Okta or the MobileIron mobile device management platform. These give secure access to Box on fixed and mobile devices and the ability to wipe mobile devices remotely.
“We looked at a few suppliers,” said Godfrey. “But Box fitted with what we wanted to do and with our plans to move to a cloud apps provider.
“The endgame is that we will have no member of staff tied to a building, with anyone able to work from anywhere.”
The next phase of the project will see a roll-out to other council departments, with all adopting Box cloud storage within the next six to nine months.