Deployment of Cloud-Based Microsoft Office 365 Results in Enhanced Collaboration and Improved System Redundancy
Incorporated in 1893, the City of West Des Moines endeavors to provide the best possible services to its citizens – as evidenced by recognition from several national publications as a great place to live and conduct business. The city is one of the fastest-growing communities in Iowa.
As West Des Moines CIO Mark Lumsden attended a Microsoft SharePoint conference, he began to envision the valuable role that cloud computing could play for the city. “The conference presented how other organizations leverage the online collaboration features that SharePoint offers,” Lumsden says. We were already considering the cloud for disaster recovery, so the new collaboration tools helped us realize just how many ways we could benefit from the cloud.”
Enhancing the city’s disaster recovery capabilities was a prime concern for Lumsden given that the West Des Moines data center was above ground in a building with a lot of glass that offered little protection from the weather. “Here in Iowa, we are especially concerned with tornadoes,” Lumsden explains. “Our building was not really meant to house a data center.”
“Planet Technologies not only offers superior technical knowledge, but is also very knowledgeable about the Microsoft Office 365 deployment process. They understand from a holistic perspective how to guide an organization in order to streamline the project and avoid the pitfalls.”
– Mark Lumsden, West Des Moines CIO
Planet Technologies Provides the Required Expertise
Lumsden determined the technology answer to his challenges came from Microsoft Office 365, which is the same as the on-premises version of Microsoft Office but provisioned via the cloud from a hosting facility managed by Microsoft. Office 365 includes Microsoft Exchange for email and makes it easier and less costly to add collaborative Microsoft tools such as Lync, SharePoint, Yammer and OneDrive.
After selecting Office 365 as the technology to meet the requirements of West Des Moines, Lumsden then needed to identify the right technology partner to manage and oversee the deployment. Knowing the cloud would present unfamiliar challenges, Lumsden wanted to rely on experts with experience in deploying Office 365 for other city governments. The city issued an RFP and focused on five solution providers recommended by Microsoft, including Planet Technologies.
“Planet Technologies clearly set itself apart from the other finalists,” Lumsden emphasizes. “They demonstrated confidence in their ability to help us transition to the cloud – especially with respect to their expertise in Microsoft Office 365 and how well they manage projects. Planet also provided solid references to other city governments for which they deployed similar solutions.”
Lumsden adds that Planet also submitted a proposal at a cost level he expected. “Cost is a big factor for any government body,” Lumsden says. “We have to justify anything we spend money on, and the proposal, as well as the supporting credentials Planet offered, made this an easier task.”
The Cloud Offers Improved Recovery, Collaboration and Productivity
In addition to enhancing disaster recovery and collaboration among city employees, West Des Moines also needed to ensure that any new technologies included e-discovery and data loss prevention features. The city must ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the city to safely secure public records and make them available to citizens upon request.
“We also needed to control costs to secure the necessary budget allocation from the city,” Lumsden adds. “This is another key reason why we chose to partner with Planet and deploy Office 365. The combination gives us a low-cost solution – not only for the initial hardware and software, but also for on-going maintenance and support.” Planet helped Lumsden create a computing environment where the city could maintain operations if a disaster rendered the main building inoperable. By leveraging the cloud and Planet’s expertise, the city staff can access applications and files from virtually anywhere on any device connected to the Internet. This not only keeps West Des Moines operational during a disaster, but also increases productivity during normal operations since the staff can work from home or on the road at any time.
In addition to the improved disaster recovery, collaboration and productivity features that Office 365 offers, Lumsden also realized the cloud platform and infrastructure would cost a lot less than deploying a similar solution on premises. “Even in a suitable facility that can withstand natural disasters, we would have had to invest heavily in hardware and software for sufficient computing capabilities as well as back-up power and cooling,” Lumsden says. “By moving to the cloud, we eliminated capital expenditures and simply pay a monthly operating cost.”
Vital Assistance with Cloud Licensing and End-User Prep
Planet was particularly helpful in registering the Wes Des Moines cloud tenancy with Microsoft, which can be a challenging process for government bodies. The software licensing process proved to be more complex than expected, especially where the city had to work through a specific third-party vendor that held the state contract for licensing Microsoft Office 365.
“Planet has a lot of experience in this area and prepared us on what to expect so we could create a realistic timeline,” Lumsden says. “We discovered how important it was to work with a solid partner like Planet that can walk us through all the forms and the different terms that come into play with cloud licensing.”
For West Des Moines end users, the switchover to the cloud proved easy. Planet worked closely with the city’s project committee members so they understood what to expect and what to communicate to end users on the configuration changes that would take place. When the staff started accessing applications, the switch was seamless – users did not notice any differences in the way the apps appeared on their desktops.
Elevating Disaster Recovery to a Higher Level
Perhaps the biggest assist Planet provided to West Des Moines was the recommendation for achieving an even higher level of system redundancy and business continuity. In addition to Microsoft hosting Office 365 from an off-site data center, Planet advised West Des Moines to migrate its data center infrastructure to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform at a second off-site data center hosted by Microsoft.
The city now leverages Microsoft Azure to host its Microsoft Active Directory federation servic- es as well as security, directory synchronization services, data services, and storage. This provides West Des Moines with full redundancy of IT resources and the elasticity to expand when necessary.
“By separating our applications and our infrastructure across two geographically-dispersed hosting facilities that Microsoft backs up to other hosting facilities, we have created a truly-redundant environment,” Lumsden says. “No matter where a natural disaster strikes, we can stay up and running.”
Enhanced Collaboration and Cost Avoidance
The collaborative abilities the city staff has gained have delivered immediate benefits. Using Lync, for example, the staff can easily meet with multiple contractors working on large city projects all at once via online meetings. Attendees can also leverage SharePoint to easily view and collaborate on documents at the same time. These new capabilities help city personnel keep city projects moving forward.
From a cost avoidance perspective, the city spent less by deploying the solution in the cloud compared to on-premises. And when factoring in the savings on cooling and electricity (since the city no longer operates on-premises servers for Office), the overall cost for West Des Moines increased only slightly compared to its previous Microsoft enterprise agreement.
West Des Moines also saved on the cost of spam filtering and two other critical areas – data loss protection and e-discovery, which are required for conformance with the Freedom of Information Act. “The technologies for these features would have cost us over $120K more if we set them up on-premises,” Lumsden estimates. “But since they are built into Office 365, we avoided the costs altogether.”
With respect to the Freedom of Information Act, Microsoft Office 365 also makes the e-discovery and legal hold process easier to manage. “We can provide easy access, and we can also lock documents so people can’t make changes,” Lumsden says. “The solution makes it much easier for us and our citizens to discover all documents and emails that relate to a particular issue.”
West Des Moines has been so impressed with their partnership with Planet Technologies in its Microsoft Office 365 implementation that the city is now considering the migration of additional infrastructure components to the cloud. “Thanks to the Planet’s successful deployment of Office 365, we are rethinking our IT strategy,” Lumsden says. “We plan to eventually go beyond messaging and collaboration to also move our other work streams so we can guarantee uptime for all applications.”
The Benefits of Microsoft Office 365
With the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 platform deployed by Planet Technologies, the City West Des Moines can now have:
- Total-Cost-Of-Ownership: Eliminates the need to purchase on-premises hardware and software as well as supporting software for e-discovery, data loss prevention and spam filtering.
- Reliability: Ensures on-going city operations in the event of a disaster by leveraging separate off-site data centers for hosting Office applications and the server infrastructure.
- Scalability: Allows servers to be provisioned easily and quickly should the city require additional computing resources.
- Email: Enables city personnel to access email from any Internet connection, thus increasing productivity and the ability to communicate with other staff and city citizens.
- Collaboration: Permits city personnel to easily meet with each other, third-party contractors and citizens online to discuss projects and review documents.
- System Administration: Moves applications and server infrastructure to the cloud so IT no longer needs to manage hardware and software maintenance.
Planet Technologies partnered with the city of West Des Moines to migrate from on-premises Microsoft Office to the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 platform. As it has done with many other government entities, Planet leveraged its top-notch customer service and its deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services as well as years of experience in similar circumstances. This approach ensured a smooth, secure transition for West Des Moines end users, resulting in improved disaster recovery and advanced collaboration capabilities. Planet played a key role by streamlining cloud tenant registration, advising on the impact on end users, and recommending dual offsite disaster recovery hosting facilities to achieve full system and application redundancy. In addition to avoiding the additional cost of deploying a similar on-premises solution, the city enhanced its e-discovery and data loss prevention systems that ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.