Independence looks at cybersecurity upgrades

Mike Genet

Some Independence staff members say the city needs to modernize its data center computer servers and upgrade its cybersecurity, and do it soon.

The City Council, some members still wary from the city’s new software installation that has gone unexpectedly long, want a bit more assurance from vendors before they spend $4.4 million.

The council voted Monday to postpone three related ordinances until next week. Two of the purchase orders are with ConvergeOne – $1.88 million for hardware and software to modernize the primary and backup data centers, and $1.57 million for cybersecurity. A contract for $972,000 with Riverside Technologies would be for network hardware.

The data centers hold information such as utility accounts and records, water treatment and electric automations and police and municipal court records. The project would be paid over the next several years with tax-exempt financing – bonds with lower interest rates because the interest is exempt from federal taxes – and using funds from various city departments depending on usage.

Jason Newkirk, the city’s chief information officer, said it would be more economical to replace and consolidate the whole data center system at once, rather than replace machines as they break down.

“One-off replacing will be more expensive and won’t be future thinking,” he said. “It will stretch the city forward for seven years, so we won’t be coming back and asking for significant hardware purchases. We’re adding capacity and getting to where we need to be, instead of just getting by. It’s a faster, more reliable network, and it puts the same thing in each building.”

Right now, he said, the city is getting by with many pieces of equipment at or near the end of their expected lifespans.

“We’re running low on disk space, and we’re running low on processing speed,” he said.

Council Members Karen DeLuccie and Dan Hobart asked if it would be possible to hear from ConvergeOne and Riverside before making a decision, as the city wants to avoid having technology not up and running in two years like the holdup for various departments’ software.

“Is there a guarantee that in nine to 10 months, their product will be in operation,” DeLuccie said. “I want a guarantee that my money is going to produce what I think I’m buying.”

Newkirk said the city would avoid an unexpected price increase of about $150,000 if it went ahead soon with purchases. City Manager Zach Walker said he didn’t want to sound like an alarmist, but ransomware attacks in recent years have shown the importance of having strong cybersecurity and data centers, as cities such as Atlanta and Baltimore have fallen victim to hacks and many city operations came to a temporary halt.

“This has happened to real cities out there,” he said. “Cities were taken down by ransomware attacks; they had to pay a handsome price to unlock their data and still haven’t recovered all the data.”

Council Member Brice Stewart, who works in information technology for Jackson County, vouched for ConvergeOne.

“I’m working a couple projects with them, and they do an excellent job,” he said.