Each year, American cities that excel in the digital arena are recognized by the Center for Digital Government through its Digital Cities Survey. Now, as part of the Digital Communities initiative, the seventh annual survey in 2007 raised the bar for cities, with winners demonstrating that digital technology can connect citizens with their government on a level never before achieved. As a result of its continuing leadership and innovation, Santa Monica, Calif., ranked first in the mid-size city category (population of 75,000 to 124,999). Digital Communities discussed the city's winning strategies with CIO Jory Wolf.

Q: Can you first give us a capsule summary of information technology deployed in Santa Monica?

A: The city is about 8.3 square miles, located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and we are surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. We are a city council/city manager form of government, and we have a budget of about $170 million in the general fund, and about $50 million worth of capital improvement project funds. We have a city employee base of 2,146, and of that, 37 are IT employees. We currently have an IT operating budget of $4.9 million and a capital project budget of $6 million, which is inflated because several of our projects, including traffic-signal synchronization and parking advisory involve public works. We have a complement of 1,500 PCs. We have completed our virtualization projects and now have downsized from 140 servers to 75. We currently store 250 terabytes of data through our storage system that uses several SANs [storage area networks] on our network.

Q: You also have your own fiber network, which I understand has been important to much of what you have done.

A: Yes, the applications that we are most proud of are ones that have been built off our broadband networks. Beginning in 1998, the city created a telecommunications master plan and decided to stop paying Verizon $4.2 million annually by creating a fiber network that would serve the city, college and schools. We currently have 50 facilities on that network, and we've reduced our Verizon tab from $4.2 million to $1.3 million.

The city pooled all of its funds from all the departments and, through our local cable franchise, we paid Adelphia - it was Adelphia at the time - $530,000 and built the fiber network. This has allowed us to not only save money, but also has taken us to the next step with new applications that we wouldn't be able to use without robust communications.

It also provided opportunities for us to lease our fiber to businesses and co-location leases to businesses. We've established regional partners that allow us to do that. Now we've taken on a position of not just serving our internal city departments, but our community as well.

Our virtualization projects have enabled us to work smarter, lower the costs of our infrastructure, and improve our services and security. We now have a robust enterprise model that includes mirrored SANs using a fiber channel, VMware, virtual servers and blade enclosures. We are now following ILM [information life cycle management] and ITIL [Information Technology Infrastructure Library] for asset and desktop management.

Virtualization has taken us into the area of a quick disaster recovery model for business continuity. What used to take us hours in terms of backup and disaster recovery testing, is now only taking minutes for our critical applications.

The broadband has also enabled the other applications we've deployed. Some of them, I know, we never would have been able to do without fiber. And that includes the 17 Wi-Fi hot zones we implemented throughout the city in public spaces. We've implemented 150 public video cameras for security purposes on our promenade, pier and all of our parking structures. We also have streaming video through our police vehicles that can be viewed

Blake Harris  |  Editor