While the Chattanooga area is interlaced with miles of high-speed fiber optic cable, and companies such as Amazon host "cloud" data storage for organizations all over town, the city's government buildings are still running on 1990s-era technology.
Chattanooga officials are planning to update the city's aged technology infrastructure, pull the plug on a farm of ancient servers and move most of its digital data to the cloud — an offsite network of servers.
It will be expensive, but Deputy Chief of Operations David Carmody says the cost will be recouped by greater efficiency.
"When we kind of took a look at the infrastructure that's in place now, we did discover that a lot of it was old and outdated," Carmody said. "I think it hadn't really been a priority to fix that stuff, because it's expensive."
As a preview of expected costs, the city approved $1.8 million in August to two companies to maintain routers, network switching and other services for the city.
Maintaining old software and hardware is time-consuming, Carmody said. When old computers or out-of-date software break, the city's first hurdle is finding ways to fix them.
The city started its technology upgrade with its phone system, which was a landline setup. Aside from having to seek out replacement parts for phones that aren't made anymore, the city was struggling to find anyone who could service the system. The city is in the final phase of replacing the old system with a new voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) interface. It's been a three-year effort, he said.
The next big step will be contracting with Google, or some other company, to host the city's email and digital data.
Now, the city pays four IT staffers just to maintain five email servers, Carmody said. If another company starts hosting city email and data, those employees could start working on further improvements instead of constant maintenance.
"That leverages capacity for us. We have staff that's dedicated to maintaining software and servers; if we move that toward service, we have the ability to be more proactive," Carmody said.
City Councilman Ken Smith, who is an IT professional, said transitioning to the cloud is a smart move.
"With any business, especially businesses with sensitive data like the city, IT upgrades are always expensive on the front end but pay off big in efficiencies," Smith said.
The changes also are expected to make public information more public, he said.
"It will also make data more available to citizens," Smith said. "The underlying idea is really a central repository for our data."
©2015 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.