Fulton County, Georgia, improved its remote access capabilities in order to build a more flexible and powerful mobile framework.
By Samuel Greengard
Over the last few years, mobility has landed at the center of IT. Organizations have come to realize that a broad array of business and IT initiatives are only as good as the mobile backbone that supports them. "It's critical to have a workforce that can connect from anywhere and under any conditions," says Jay Terrell, chief technology officer and director of IT for Fulton County, Georgia.
As the largest and most populated county in Georgia—with 42 departments and approximately 5,800 government employees—connecting people and systems effectively is not a simple task. What's more, there's a critical need for police, firefighters and others to stay in communication, particularly during an unexpected disaster or severe weather, such as last winter's ice storm.
"A primary challenge with mobile connectivity is that diverse departments, including libraries, jails and health departments, have very different needs," Terrell explains. "There's no one-size-fits-everybody approach. As workers have moved from laptops to tablets and smartphones, the demand for services has spiked and the need for easily accessible data has grown."
During a migration to Windows 7, Terrell and other IT officials recognized a need for change. The county had to support 64-bit secure remote access for Citrix GoToMyPC and other solutions while continuing to use applications and services running on a legacy mainframe. A previous VPN appliance wasn't up to the task, Terrell says. As a result, the county turned to three Dell E-Class SRA EX7000 appliances to provide clientless SSL VPN access. Each device accommodates as many as 5,000 concurrent users. The environment supports up to eight nodes, with configuration taking place behind an external load balancer.
Terrell says the user interface has provided significant advantages over previous devices and systems. "We're able to provide the end users with a login page that gives them direct access to things in a way that looks familiar to them," he points out. "There's no punching in a bunch of IP addresses and commands to get the secure VPN connection. That provides absolutely no value to them." Instead, customized interfaces and web pages greet different departments. In some cases, departments share common applications but use different interfaces, Terrell adds.
The county deployed the three SRA EX7000 appliances, with a high availability cluster at the primary data center. It uses another appliance at a remote colocation to host Dell SonicWALL Spike License accounts. The latter allows the agency to increase remote user counts dynamically. The IT department has integrated authentication with Active Directory. Each department has its own shared drive that users can access when they log into the system. However, employees can only access data for which they have departmental permission.
Not only has the new solution helped Fulton County modernize access and build mobility into the fabric of the organization, it has also lowered total cost of ownership by reducing administrative overhead and staff hours. "The widespread adoption and support of mobile technology is driving the county toward a more digital environment," says Terrell. "It's putting critical information in the hands of police, firefighters, building inspectors and many others—where and when they need it."
Photo credit: Fulton County, Georgia, is the state's largest and most populated county. Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola Co.
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Doing Big Data Analytics Right," click here.