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San Diego Airport Ascends to the Cloud

Airport Authority is one of eight organizations that announced its Office 365 migration at Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector Summit.

The San Diego International Airport, the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the country, ushered more than 12 million passengers through its gates in 2012. Founded in 1928, the facility contributes nearly $10 billion each year to the economy of the region.

And the airport is a self-sufficient economic entity, supported not by tax dollars, but by revenue streams including airline fees, rent from airport tenants, concessions and parking, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) IT Director Howard Kourik explained to Government Technology.

As an independent organization, the airport and the SDCRAA that governs it operates its own enterprise resource planning system to manage its general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, HR, payroll and more – “all the standard functions a normal company would have,” Kourik said. He and his team are responsible for all the administrative and operational systems used to deliver services to the airlines.

Until recently, certain personnel on Kourik’s team spent some of their time maintaining four email servers to keep email up and running for 509 airport employees. Managing those servers in house also required investments and staff time for updates to virus protection and spam filtering software.

“I had to do the updates on those machines for the firmware, for the operating system updates, the security patches – everything you have to do to keep a server operating,” he explained, adding that updates had to take place on the weekends to minimize impacts to the workforce, representing overtime hours for IT employees.

About 16 months ago, the SDCRAA migrated from Microsoft Exchange servers running Outlook to Office 365’s predecessor, BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). And then, to save personnel time and costs, they moved to Office 365 -- Office in the cloud -- about eight months ago, according to Kourik.

Officials in San Diego had some concerns that are often raised when an organization contemplates a move to the cloud, such as security and speed. Some of these fears were laid to rest when Kourik explained that the SDCRAA has actually used cloud services for several years with its ERP system. A longtime user of the hosted Oracle enterprise one system, Kourik likens it to an early cloud deployment, by another name. 

“When I discussed with my management the concept of moving email to the cloud and I explained to them that we're already in the cloud with our ERP system, they said 'We are?'” said Kourik, who convinced them of the parallels. “'That's what the cloud is. Someone else is running the computers and the software at a remote location; you're just connecting and using it as a service.”

That realization, coupled with some in-depth research conducted by Kourik and his team on the viability of cloud-based email, convinced the SDRCAA to move its email to the cloud.

Security concerns were addressed through an understanding of what a large company like Microsoft could offer that the SDCRAA simply wasn’t equipped for in-house.

"I have a computer room with card key access on it, but I don’t have a guard there 24 hours a day,” he said, adding that Microsoft’s data center that hosts the SDRCAA’s email system, by contrast, has multiple background-checked security guards and system administrators, redundant power supplies, redundant Internet connections and redundant server farms.

“A small company like us just can’t match the variety of security and safeguards that are implemented by a large company like Microsoft, given the economy of scale you're talking about,” he said.

According to Kourik, the migration to Office 365 is helping the airport reduce costs by about $40,000 a year, not including the staff time being saved by removing the server maintenance functions, estimated at the equivalent of three-fourths of one full-time employee.

The announcement of the SDCRAA's move to Office 365, along with seven other public-sector organizations, was made on March 27 at Microsoft’s annual Public Sector CIO Summit in Redmond, Wash. The other agencies adopting Office 365 are the city of Kansas City, Mo.; the city of Seattle, Wash.; the University of Miami; the California Institute of Technology; Sacramento State University in Sacramento, Calif.; the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; and King County, Wash.   
Photo courtesy of the San Diego International Airport

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.