Cloud basics with Microsoft’s Rick Zak

Public safety agencies are increasingly moving their operations to the cloud, but questions about cloud technology still linger. Here, we revisit an interview with Microsoft’s Director of Justice and Public Safety Solutions Rick Zak where he shares information about cloud basics and the all-important security of public safety data.

“The cloud is about leveraging a trusted provider for a secure computing infrastructure instead of your own,” said Zak. “If you’re a law enforcement agency, you have a lot of infrastructure in your basement. You’ve got racks, you’ve got servers, and you support your own users in many ways. The cloud is about leveraging somebody else’s computing capacity to complement your own.”

Security and compliance standards

When it comes to security and compliance, the same rules an agency has in its own data center also apply when they move to the cloud.

“There are no exceptions, and there are no security freebies,” Zak said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, our data center is CJIS-compliant, but what’s in the cloud doesn’t have to be.’ It doesn’t work that way. The same standards that apply in your house, apply in our house.”

Increased protection

According to Zak, by moving from on-premises solutions to the cloud, public safety agencies can increase data security and compliance.

“I would argue that, for a lot of agencies, they can actually step up their security and compliance by coming to the cloud through Microsoft and Hexagon because we’ve already made the investments, and we have a deeper team on cyber than a public safety agency would,” he said. “At Microsoft, we spend several billion dollars a year on security and compliance. That means even the smallest agencies who are using Azure and Hexagon get the same cyber security investment that the largest agencies get.”

Cybercrime and cyber defense capabilities

Zak shared that Microsoft is constantly engaged around cyber defense and around cybercrime.

“We take what we learn and embed it into our cloud platforms,” he said. “For example, we run a digital crimes unit in our headquarters outside Seattle. From there, we partner with law enforcement agencies around the world. We don’t just provide them the tools that they need to stop cybercrime, but we actually partner with them to support their work and stop malware and support prosecutions. Everything we learn from the cyber defense gets baked into our cloud.”

It’s a perpetual learning process, according to Zak, who said, “The other piece that’s important here is when we build a data center, we don’t put security and compliance in at the end. Instead, security and compliance start with the first shovel of dirt when we build a data center.”


Every public safety agency is different, which means cloud solutions need to be configurable to meet each one’s unique needs. But how difficult is that to accomplish? Zak said cloud-based technologies are customizable, but there is some nuance.

“One key thing to keep in mind is that there are three different ways we can view the cloud: as hardware, as a platform for connection, and as software,” he said.

“If we view it as hardware, we’re essentially utilizing the data centers of cloud providers – data centers that are more robust, secure, and cost-effective than what public safety agencies have. The theory being that it’s cheaper for cloud providers to store agency data, and it frees up space for agencies.

“If we view it as a platform, we’re utilizing it as a place for public safety agencies to collaborate – it’s not in anybody’s data center. It’s one common layer that everybody connects to, allowing them to get what they need without wires.

“If we view it as software, we’re moving back to a model similar to the cloud as hardware – with the cloud serving as a platform that connects everything together. The difference is, in this model, agencies get capabilities, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning, that are only available in the cloud.”

So, yes, agencies can configure the cloud to meet their needs, but it depends on how it’s deployed and where they set the dial, said Zak, meaning how much they do versus how much their cloud providers do.

Differences between on-premises, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS

There are four deployment options: on-premises, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).

In a traditional on-premises solution, everything stays in the agency’s data center. There is no cloud involved.

IaaS allows agencies to utilize the cloud as an extension of their data centers, but they still control everything. Zak said many see this as a first step into the cloud.

PaaS has the cloud providers doing almost everything, except for managing the data and the applications on top. Finally, SaaS gives all responsibility to the cloud provider. Agencies pay for a subscription, and everything resides in the cloud. Agencies access the needed software via browsers and sometimes mobile apps.

“For an agency to select the deployment type that’s right for them, they must decide how much they want to do and how much control they want,” said Zak. “If they want to own the whole cloud and have control over everything, here’s a lot to configure, administer, and maintain. If all they want the cloud to do is deliver a complete solution from a trusted partner like Hexagon, then they don’t have to do much at all.”

Examples of solutions agencies can only get in the cloud

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two examples that are crucial solutions for agencies, and to work effectively they require the amount of compute resources only the cloud can deliver, Zak explained.

“Another issue the cloud solves that’s vital for emergency management folks is availability,” he added. “Early on, the emergency management community recognized that the cloud’s security, resilience, and reliability meant having computing infrastructure that was always there and always on. It can also very easily scale up to provide more resources during extreme events. This provides a real value in the emergency management world.”

Learn more

Interested in moving your public safety solutions to the cloud? Explore Hexagon’s comprehensive public safety portfolio, HxGN OnCall.

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