Pittsburgh moving IT infrastructure to Google Cloud

  • 15/03/2021

Pittsburgh announced today  a $4 million pilot partnership with Google Cloud to migrate its legacy IT infrastructure to the cloud.

The migration work is expected to take about a year of the four-year agreement, said Heidi Norman, acting director of the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance. The move will happen in three phases. The first will involve moving IT tools and applications that the department uses to monitor and manage the infrastructure. After that will be compute and storage capacity, followed by lifting and shifting other on-premises applications to the cloud. The migration will help the Department of Innovation and Performance support the city's 19 departments with creating and scaling citizen-facing services for mobility, transportation, infrastructure, public safety and more.

“I think it’s going to provide a lot of value in terms of my department’s ability to support our colleagues in providing services to the community,” Norman said of the migration.

The first phase will focus on ensuring that the underlying servers run securely in the cloud. “As we do that, then we’re migrating databases, which are running in the cloud, so the data management is secure and replicated, which means that there’s no single point of failure anywhere, and always available 24/7 for use,” said Andrew Moore, vice president of engineering and general manager of cloud, artificial intelligence and industry solutions at Google Cloud.

By moving data analytics tools in the second phase, the city will be able to expand smart city initiatives and gain operational efficiencies, Moore said. “We’re envisioning being able to build analysis and data science solutions for the city on top of the infrastructure,” he said.

One smart city effort already in use is ParkPGH, which the Pittsburgh Cultural District developed in 2010 to let drivers know in real time where parking spaces are available. “The departments which offer services directly to our residents are constantly thinking about how they can provide improved technology-enabled services. So as they take on those new projects, my Department of Innovation and Performance will be in a position to really support them with the compute, storage and applications that they need,” Norman said.

She expects the city to see three main benefits from the project:

Easier scalability. “As our resident-facing departments -- the departments that offer services directly to our community-- have needs for compute capacity or storage capacity  … we are able to scale the capacity of those things up and down very rapidly in a way that you really can’t do with on-prem servers.”

Improved infrastructure security. “The security that is required for on-prem data centers is especially challenging, given the financial constraints that our city -- along with most cities in the country these days -- is experiencing, so that’s going to be a big benefit.”

Enhanced data services. “We’re really going to flatten and modernize our data services in the cloud, [allowing] for improved and accessible analytics and data-driven management for all of the departments across the city.”

Moore said other benefits include cost avoidance and support for public safety. “By moving information technology infrastructure from extensive and hard-to-maintain on-premise solutions and into the cloud, then we’re able to realize significant savings for the city of Pittsburgh,” he said, although Norman noted she couldn’t quantify how much. “At the same time, we can increase the reliability of the underlying infrastructure, which is going to be particularly useful in safety-critical areas,” Moore said. “We’re going to be able to help in places like police [and] fire to make sure the data is available at a very low latency whenever it’s needed.”

Google and the city arrived at the agreement through an unusual procurement process in which the company approached the city with a plan to address its problems with aging systems. The city and Google worked together last summer on an emergent need to rapidly increase storage capacity. It was then that the team learned about the constraints and challenges Pittsburgh faced with its IT systems, Norman said.

Last fall, Google approached her office with an offer to migrate infrastructure to the cloud, and Pittsburgh accepted.

“We were thinking about moving to the cloud, but like most other municipal- or even county-level governments, we were considering how we could afford … an incremental move over several years,” Norman said. “Google has flipped that formula, and we are going to be able to accomplish all of it within a single year.”