Amazon EC2

AchieveCity to offer municipalities free, open source government platforms


Firmstep has launched a new service called AchieveCity, a Web-based government platform powered by the Drupal distribution OpenPublic (developed by Phase2 Technology) and hosted in the Amazon EC2 environment.

Firmstep says five municipalities will go live in August, and those signing up now will launch beginning in September. Founder and CEO Brett Husbands talks with GovFresh about the new service.

What’s the technology driving AchieveCity and why is this important?

For the customer we try to keep the technology understanding to a minimum. We are working to get AchieveCity to be easier to try than setting up a wordpress site. Reducing set-up overhead by hosting as SaaS allows people to focus on CMS functionality rather than thinking about technology and makes it easy to try, it also means we can keep improving it more easily than with installed software.

The technology used is the OpenPublic distribution of Drupal 7 built by Phase2. This distribution is government focused and well proven by Phase2 who worked on and and that heritage is baked in. For any government organisation proven security and scalability are a pre-requisite. We have extended it, and we are making those contributions back to OpenPublic. The “Apps” model makes sense, and any developer can make an app and contribute it.

Drupal in Government has a really strong case and lots of good examples. Picking the most widely used CMS technology, estimated at 1.4% of all web use, is a good choice. With so many big organisations with complex needs using it, there are great reference sites and we are able to focus on what it does without getting bogged down in technical considerations, that have already been solved.

What features will municipalities have access to?

A great city website that looks nice, and is easy to manage. There is a lot out of the box with Drupal7, and then OpenPublic adds much more too. A great thing about the technology we are using is that it is easy to add more. A non-exhaustive list of features includes: Scalability, Robust WYSIWYG Editor, News Room, Breaking News, Page Preview, Search Site, Page Versioning, Blog, Website Statistics, Media Gallery, Content Organization, Taxonomy, Accessibility, RSS Feeds, Breadcrumbs, Intranet, Public Contact Form, Styles, Automated Logout, Publishing controls, Site Map, Calendar, Registrations for events, Maps, FAQs, Document Handling, Notifications.

We expect with each new customer more features will be added and best practices identified – and that will give a multiplier or network effect as each customer making an improvement makes that improvement available to everybody.

How are you going to sustain AchieveCity if it’s free?

The technology is free, and will always be free – the software and data are portable to other providers or can be taken in-house.

Obviously there are operating costs that we experience including hosting, bandwidth, and maintenance that we have to meet – and reaching the scale of use that those costs become an issue will be a nice problem to have that will be easily solved without disrupting service to customers. For the coming period we see this as an investment in a platform for government that we can easily afford to make. Inevitably there will be a need for services around the site and also for charged-for extra modules – we see that future revenue as being sufficient to continue to run the CMS service for free.

What type of government is a good fit?

In the pre-launch phase we have been working with several cities, a state, and a state agency, and departments within a large city. So we haven’t found an “ideal size” yet. The key feature is that they want to improve their website and be decisive.

See a sample site or learn more.

Gov 2.0 guide to cloud computing

Cloud computing is a computing model that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. It enables convenient, on-demand access to a shared pool of computing resources, which may include networks, servers, storage or software applications.

These resources can be rapidly self-provisioned online with no service provider interaction. The service is fully managed by the provider, freeing users from the finer details of system maintenance.

Services are sold on-demand and provisioned on a pay-per-use or metered-use basis, similar to a utility. Services are also elastic, meaning they will automatically scale to meet fluctuations in demand so a user can have as much or as little of a service as they want at any given time.

Cloud services typically fall into three broad categories:

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software services can include anything from Web-based email to specialized inventory control and database processing software. The user interacts with the software product through a front-end portal and because the service provider hosts both the application and the data, the end user is free to use the service from anywhere.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service provides a set of software and product development tools hosted on the service provider’s infrastructure. Developers can create custom software applications on the provider’s platform over the Internet. Service providers may use APIs, website portals or gateway software installed on the user’s computer to enable interoperability with other systems. (*note: There are currently no standards for interoperability or data portability in the cloud)

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Sometimes referred to as utility computing, Infrastructure as a Service provides virtual server instances with unique IP addresses and blocks of on-demand storage. Users can start, stop, access and configure their virtual servers and storage via the provider’s application program interface (API). Users pay for only as much capacity as is needed, and the cloud provides more capacity automatically as soon as it is required.

Advantages of cloud computing for the federal government

Cloud computing offers a cost-effective and service-oriented approach for sharing computing resources across the government. Being able to access a powerful pool of common infrastructure, applications, information, and solutions greatly improves communication and collaboration across government in addition to providing incredible cost savings. The overall objective is to create a more agile federal enterprise, where services can be provisioned and reused on demand to meet changing business needs.

How cloud computing enables government transparency

Cloud computing is an excellent tool for fast, easy, secure and economical data sharing. By using a hybrid cloud environment, a government agency can easily port data sets into a secure computing environment and that data can be safely accessed by outside parties via open data APIs or commercial cloud services such as Amazon EC2 or Goggle App Engine.

Government clouds underway

More on cloud computing

Federal cloud bodies

  • Cloud Computing Advisory Council
  • Cloud Computing Executive Steering Committee


The Benefits of Government Cloud Computing

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Aneesh Chopra, Federal CTO discusses Cloud Computing

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