Part 1: The Cloud and NG9-1-1

September 2, 2011

Todd Piett

These days everyone seems to be talking about moving to the cloud – we see it in commercials and as a regular topic in every technology publication. Based on estimates reported by the Office of Management of Budget (OMB) an estimated $20 billion of the Federal Government’s $80 billion in IT spending is a potential target for migration to cloud computing. The Federal Government has also instituted a “cloud first” policy whereby agencies are required to evaluate cloud delivery options before making any new investments.

Why should those of us in 9-1-1 care about the cloud? ESINet’s are delivered as a “cloud” service and the solution itself is an intertwined network of cloud based services. What does that mean? Is the cloud really secure and mature enough to entrust with our public safety communications? As a public safety official what do you need to understand about the “cloud”?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore each of these questions, but let’s start by defining the cloud.

It’s important to understand that the “cloud” does not define a new deployment model (e.g. off-site hosted) or technology (e.g. virtualization). Instead, it is a model for delivering applications and services and can involve any number of different resource combinations and delivery models.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as follows:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”

Others have defined cloud computing as describing computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services. Or as George Rice, former Executive Director of APCO International described loosely as “software and services that run on your computer but that you don’t need to purchase or operate yourself” (“Cloud Computing”, Public Safety Communications, March 2010).

Regardless of the exact definition, several key technology advances have enabled the spectrum of cloud computing options available today, including among others:

  • Virtualization
  • Extremely high bandwidth rates enabling web based applications to perform like thick client applications and facilitating web services interfaces
  • Network security improvements.

Without these advances cloud models would not be viable options for the level of redundancy and reliability required by our emergency communications infrastructure.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at some of the models enabled by these technology advances. Read Part 2 here.

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