Waynesville contemplates cloud computing

By Mary Ann Enloe | Nov 01, 2013

Cloud computing is not something folks bring up at the dinner table.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia prefaces its Google article about cloud computing with a warning: "This article may be too technical for most readers to understand."

An over-simplification might be that instead of computer hardware one can see and feel and software one can install, nothing exists physically.  It's virtual and somewhere "up in the clouds."

Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal and Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova have spent a year making it their business to understand it.

At a recent town council meeting, Oneial and Melnikova recommended the town go with VC3, Inc. of Atlanta, Columbia and Raleigh for its information technology services. The annual estimated cost is $215,000 for a 24/7 fully managed and hosted solution. The board gave the green light for Onieal to negotiate a contract with VC3.

This is about what it would cost for the town to hire one fulltime IT professional and retain some managed services which would still be necessary, even with the addition of an IT professional. IT funding was included in this year's budget.

When Onieal was hired for the town manager's position last year, the board told her they wanted to know where the town was with its IT services and where it should go in the short and long term.

The town has never had an IT department nor staff dedicated solely to information technology. It currently uses an outside vendor to provide maintenance and support on an as-needed basis.

The Waynesville Police Department receives IT support from Haywood County, as law-enforcement requirements are handled differently. Federal guidelines do not yet permit cloud providers to connect to state and federal criminal data systems.

Last year Onieal and Melnikova sought the expertise of the NC League of Municipalities, which was undergoing significant upgrades to its own IT systems. At the Oct. 9, 2012, meeting the board authorized the town manager to initiate a comprehensive assessment of the town's IT capacity and to enter into an agreement with VC3, Inc. for a scope of work not to exceed $30,000.

VC3 employs almost 100 people in three states — North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and its focus is on small and medium local governments.  The company was endorsed by the NC League of Municipalities.

The town board accepted VC3's lengthy assessment as  presented on Feb. 22, 2013. Based upon that assessment, the board on Aug. 13 authorized the town manager to submit requests for proposals to qualified companies.

Seven responded, including VC3. Responses were received on Sept. 16. NC General Statute 143-129.8 permits the town to award a contract to the vendor that submits the best overall proposal.  Proposals are not subject to public inspection until the contract is awarded.

If the town doesn't successfully enter a contract with any vendor, the proposals are never public. Ryan Draughn, chief information officer of the NC League of Municipalities appeared before the board July 16 to share the League's experience with a cloud versus premise-based computing solution. The League used VC3, Inc.

"I can't speak highly enough of having made this change within their organization," Draughn told the board.  "If I had known moving to the cloud and away from in-house managed IT was such a positive experience, I wish we had made the change earlier."

Jon Feichter, owner of New Meridian Technologies, attended the July meeting and was asked by Mayor Gavin Brown to weigh in on the presentation.

New Meridian has been the town's primary network support provider for over a decade. Both Brown and Onieal were quick to point out that New Meridian has been an excellent vendor and provided outstanding service.

"But we've outgrown the break-fix model," Onieal said. "We need a more intensely managed and supported IT environment." Feichter said he had reservations about cloud computing and cautioned against the town's "...putting all its eggs in one basket."

To Alderman Leroy Roberson's question about lost data and a back-up system, Draughn responded that "...if the entire world's Internet went down, the answer would be no back-up, but that is so unlikely as to be a negligible concern."

Jan. 1, 2014 is the target date for start-up.  New Meridian Technologies, the town's current service provider, will assist in the transition and will be paid through July 31, the end of the fiscal year, regardless of how quickly a new contract is implemented.

In other business Tuesday night, the mayor presented to Assistant Town Manager Alison Milnikova a certificate of appreciation and a resolution congratulating her on her appointment as town manager of Laurel Park in Henderson County.

Melnikova serves on the advisory board of the Western Carolina University Master of Public Affairs Program and the board of directors of the North Carolina City and County Managers' Association, which in 2012 named her North Carolina's Assistant Manager of the Year.

Brown proclaimed October Disability Employment Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Earl Clark, chairman of the Waynesville ABC board, announced the official opening of the new ABC store at 52 Dayco Drive.

JoAnna Swanson reported on the Haywood County Commission for a Clean County.  Swanson is the secretary and founder of the litter-control organization.

After hearing a proposal by Stan Cross, founder and principal, Brightfields Transportation Solutions and Bill Eaker, WNC Clean Vehicle Coalition Coordinator, the governing board approved the installation of an electric vehicle charging station at Miller/Montgomery/Haywood Public Parking Lot, and to authorize the manager to enter into an agreement with Advanced Energy/Brightfields Transportation Solutions for installation, maintenance and operation of the station.

The governing board amended its Jan. 22 agreement to initiate a 20-year loan of $106,700 to Workforce Homestead Inc. for the installation of a sewer line down Hyatt Creek Road to assist the developer of Hyatt Trace in obtaining tax credits.

This is the same type of agreement the town  entered into for the development of the old hospital property, but tax credits for that developer did not materialize and the project was scrapped. Workforce Homestead was notified in September that its Hyatt Creek project housing credit application didn't make the 2013 funded list.

Tuesday night the board voted to change its agreement and instead of a loan, to contribute $142,650 in the form of water and sewer tap waivers but with no out-of-pocket expenditures, in the hope that the affordable rental apartment community will be more competitive for 2014 tax credits.

That is revenue the town would not have anyway if the project fails to get built.  In Town Manager Marcy Onieal's memo to the board, she noted it is anticipated that the construction of this 64-unit housing complex will help spur further development in the commercial corridor between Waynesville Commons and the development itself.