City of Oakland turns to Motorola Solutions’ cloud-based disaster-recovery service for CAD
Oakland, Calif., has selected Motorola Solutions’ new cloud-based “Disaster Recovery as a Service” (DRaaS) solution as an alternative method to access the PremierOne CAD system in the event of an earthquake, wildfire or other incident that causes the on-premise infrastructure to be unavailable.
City of Oakland CIO Andrew “Pete” Peterson said that he believes having the communication center’s recovery housed in the cloud—a virtual communications center—makes more sense than building and maintaining a separate physical backup center within the city’s jurisdiction, which was the plan when he arrived in Oakland almost three years ago.
“When I looked at the proposed contract, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me—we were about to sign a contract where our primary and secondary CAD systems were in the same city, like a mile apart,” Peterson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “A single disaster—like a 7.2 or 6.8 earthquake—could take them both out, so we worked with Motorola to rewrite the terms of the contract. One of the conditions I had put in place was that the disaster site had to be somewhere else—preferably in the cloud.
“It’s important that the DR [disaster-recovery solution] be somewhere where it’s resilient. Having it in the cloud makes it more resilient and more accessible, because we can then use VDI [virtual desktop], which is part of the solution to have our dispatchers log in from home or wherever there is a valid connection to the cloud to do dispatching or whatever is necessary at a time like that.”
Motorola Solutions was “great” to work with during the development stage, with company officials explaining the options and tradeoffs of various strategies to address key questions that all communications centers must answer, Peterson said.
“If your primary solution goes down or is for some reason inaccessible, what do you do in a disaster situation? How do you continue to operate?” he said. “That’s what the disaster recovery as a service is doing. I think it’s unique to do it with a computer-aided-dispatch system.
“That’s the essence of this announcement: They now have this capability, and we plan to take advantage of it.”
Chris Rapala, Motorola Solutions’ vice president of command-and-control solutions, said Oakland is the first city to subscribe to the company’s DRaaS offering, which is available only to PremierOne customers currently.
“Oakland wanted to have a disaster recovery that was geographically separate,” Rapala said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “They felt, if there was an issue that shut them down—a big storm or fires in their area—they wanted something that they could be sure would be able to spin up and not also be offline.”
“We can run PremierOne CAD in the cloud as what most people would call a ‘hot standby’ and run their environment for them in the cloud.”
Making the PremierOne CAD available in the cloud is an important step in Motorola Solutions’ company strategy to provide public-safety customers with an end-to-end suite of software that addresses their needs, according to Rapala.
“We’re not forcing customers to [migrate systems to the cloud], but we’re trying to find the places where it’s really advantageous for our customers to go that way,” she said. “Oakland felt that this was a true leverage of cloud capabilities—they don’t need to have a bunch more equipment, they don’t need to find a place to put it, but they can get the value out of it.
“It fits with that strategy of that end-to-end suite, where they can leverage the cloud where it makes sense. It’s really our first step in that journey with the CAD and finding ways where the CAD can truly add value in the cloud.”
Andrew Sinclair, Motorola Solutions’ senior vice president and general manager for software enterprise, echoed this sentiment.
“We’re committed to ensuring that public safety operations are always up and running, but especially during a disaster—that’s non-negotiable,” Sinclair said in a prepared statement. “Because our Disaster Recovery as a Service feature is hosted in the cloud, we are able to provide our customers with the secure, uncompromising resilience they need and the peace of mind they deserve, at a price they can afford.”
Rapala said that Motorola Solutions and the Oakland city officials are still working to develop a timeline for implementing the cloud-based DRaaS capability in Oakland
Peterson said that he believes the flexibility afforded by the cloud will make it easier for the city of Oakland to maintain its response operations than having a second on-premise CAD system as a backup to the primary system, particularly with all of the wired and wireless options to access the Internet in the area.
“The assumption here is that there’s not connectivity in the city or in the city facilities,” Peterson said. “But just because an earthquake happens here, it doesn’t mean that all Internet within Oakland is wiped out. There’s going to be Internet somewhere, even if they [communications-center personnel] have to leave the city and go to a neighboring city, do it from home or what not. There’s going to be Internet somewhere—that’s the assumption. Now, if there’s no Internet, then it’s problematic.
“In a disaster situation such as this, there will be many paths for a dispatcher to get to a virtual desktop, so they can continue to do their job. We do have a microwave network that’s resilient. They can take a radio home with them—they can bring up the virtual desktop in their home, for example—and they can dispatch. We have FirstNet. We have Verizon. We have a number of different vendors, so there’s a lot of resiliency in that sense to make the connection to our CAD backup system in the cloud.”
While physical disasters are often the focus of officials during the planning process, cyberattacks have emerged as a growing threat for all enterprises, especially municipalities. Housing a duplicate version of the CAD system in the Microsoft Azure Government cloud—bolstered with its own significant security expertise and resources—should be beneficial to Oakland in a scenario where a hacker manages to compromise the on-premise equipment at the primary communications center, Peterson said.
“There are zillions of hackers out there, and they’re working every day to break down your defenses. So, it’s really a matter of when, not if [a cyberattack occurs],” Peterson said. “The question is: How do you respond to that attack? Having backups, having disaster-recovery sites, and having the ability to isolate your primary site—because that’s where the infection is—and put you in another area that’s not infected and continue to operate is critical.
“Even in the event that you need to restore, you have to go to a site that hasn’t been infected, that has backups—all of your data and all of your operational systems—and be able to restore. The nice thing about the cloud is all of this built-in security … Microsoft has a lot more resources to ensure that these environments are secure [than the city of Oakland does internally].”
Peterson said he is comfortable with the idea that Oakland’s CAD system will have a hybrid approach to availability, with an on-premise system as the primary and the cloud-based DRaaS as the backup. When asked whether he believes Oakland could migrate its primary CAD operations to the cloud in the future, Peterson expressed doubt that would be a realistic option.
“I think hybrid is the way to go,” he said. “The cloud costs can get really exorbitant, if you’re not really careful about how you implement it. For example, you’re paying by the minute or whatever for these compute resources, but if you leave them on, you’re paying for them 24/7 … You have to be smart how you implement things in the cloud; otherwise, the spend could be crazy.
“Another example is that these cloud providers make it attractive to move storage to the cloud, but if you want to access it—egress—it gets expensive. If I put terabytes of data in the cloud, it’s cheap and they have different tiers of storage, but as soon as I try to bring it back, they charge me. The expense of bringing it out—what we call an egress charge—is pretty expensive.
“So, for us, things like that that are going to be data intensive and are going to be moved around a lot—for example, an enterprise content-management system—we’re going to leave that here on premise in our data centers and go from there.”