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City of Port St. Lucie Modernizes Its Technology on AWS to Better Serve Residents

2021

Using AWS, the City of Port St. Lucie eliminated hardware costs, increased scalability, and improved agility and innovation. The midsize Florida city strategized to modernize its outdated on-premises technology using Amazon RDS, Amazon Chime, and other AWS services. In under 4 days, it spun up Amazon Chime, which enables leadership to continue to hold meetings and run operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. On AWS, Port St. Lucie can continue to cost efficiently optimize and innovate to better serve its 195,000 residents.

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Amazon Chime is a lot more intuitive for people who only lightly used technology in the office but rely on technology while working from home now. It’s a simple service for people to pick up and use.”

Bill Jones
Chief Information Officer, City of Port St. Lucie

In 2018 the local government of the City of Port St. Lucie in Florida set out to modernize its on-premises tech infrastructure by migrating to Amazon Web Services (AWS). In doing so, the midsize city cut costs by eliminating expensive hardware and taking advantage of the cost-efficient, pay-as-you-go pricing model on AWS. The city also became more agile and innovative, which helped it seamlessly continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Searching for Intuitive, Modern Technology on AWS

The seventh largest city in Florida, Port St. Lucie comprises 120 square miles and has a population of more than 195,000. Its overall information technology budget is just over $6 million a year. Unusual for a local government, the city has a decent-size application development division that develops in-house software to fit its specific business needs. Port St. Lucie first used AWS in 2016 to improve backups using Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), an object storage service. It began its modernization efforts on AWS in 2018 when the new city manager pushed to update the government’s technology stack to make it more cost effective and efficient.

Previously, the city relied on hardware that needed to be replaced every 4 years in a costly cycle. However, budget cuts meant hardware replacements were often put on the back burner, which not only forced the government to rely on outdated hardware but also eventually necessitated a huge investment into replacing a large portion of the hardware all at once. “If I request $700,000 to replace servers and get denied, then I’m forced to keep those working until I can get approval,” explains Bill Jones, chief information officer for the City of Port St. Lucie. The government had to cut costs, but it also needed intuitive technology that was simple to use. “It’s not uncommon to have government employees who’ve been here for upward of 20 years, and it’s nice to have that institutional knowledge,” says Jones. “The problem is that most of these employees started here before they ever had a computer, and some of them still don’t know how to use one.”

Port St. Lucie found unparalleled support on AWS to pursue its modernization. “The team from AWS was so inviting,” says Jones. “They were interested in knowing what we were doing and what we were trying to do. They provided the help and resources we needed to use AWS, as well as access to its experts at no extra charge. We got plenty of guidance, and the scalability of AWS opens up a lot of opportunities for us.”

Cutting Costs and Driving Innovation on AWS

Port St. Lucie’s modernization efforts began in the spring of 2018 and are ongoing. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city ramped up and rolled out Microsoft Teams for weekly virtual meetings among executives and with people outside the government. But people who had less technical experience struggled with the system. Plus, loud noises from people’s homes, like barking dogs, interrupted the meetings. In reaction, the information technology department took under 4 days to spin up Amazon Chime, a communications service that lets you meet, chat, and place business calls inside and outside your organization, all using a single application. Now every department in Port St. Lucie’s government uses this service, which enables leadership to continue holding meetings and keep the city running. The information technology team can moderate these meetings with ease, muting the mics of nonspeaking participants to eliminate background noise. “Amazon Chime is a lot more intuitive for people who only lightly used technology in the office but rely on technology while working from home now,” says Jones. “It was sink or swim. Amazon Chime is a simple service for people to pick up and use.”

When 450 employees were working from home during a lockdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city also realized the value of Amazon WorkSpaces, a managed, secure desktop-as-a-service solution. Though the government hasn’t yet used Amazon WorkSpaces, it expects to do so if the city again goes into lockdown. The service deploys virtual workstations in minutes to enable staff to work remotely on a variety of supported devices, whether PC, Mac, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android tablet, or Chromebook, as well as web browsers like Firefox and Chrome. Jones anticipates 50–60 employees might take advantage of it in the future: “We saw Amazon WorkSpaces as a perfect fit for the people who didn’t have a device that they could take home. It would enable us to provide them a secure work space protected by all of our cybersecurity, and we could directly connect it to our internal servers
through a virtual private cloud.”

Now Port St. Lucie’s primary focus is modernizing its flagship on-premises application for building permits. If the building permits system were to fail, it would negatively impact the city’s thriving building industry and, as a result, its economy. If the system were down 3 days or longer, the city couldn’t perform inspections or issue permits, which could push developers and construction teams to leave for another town. Port St. Lucie might enlist migration support from AWS Select Consulting Partner DOMA Technologies to lift and shift the building-permit app to Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which would improve scalability and load balancing and eliminate expensive hardware costs. “The idea is to move everything to Amazon RDS so that we don’t have to manage the server,” says Jones. “This helps us with staffing. I don’t have to hire a database administrator to manage that database.” Eventually, the development team plans to build a serverless land-development application that includes a building-permit system. “We’re going to migrate that onto AWS and take advantage of as much serverless architecture as we can. That will minimize what we have to manage and improve the scalability.”

On AWS, Port St. Lucie is set up for significant cost savings by taking advantage of the pay-as-you-go pricing model and scalable infrastructure. “If executives come to me and say, ‘You have to cut your budget,’ I can quickly say, ‘Here’s the list. You pick what to shut off,’” says Jones. That flexibility also enables the city to be more innovative and agile. “We’re freer to innovate because it’s not going to be as big of an impact when something we try doesn’t work out. We no longer have to buy hardware just to try it,” says Jones, noting that deploying new hardware took 6 months to 1 year. “If it’s something that works out, then we can commit long term and save money on AWS. If it doesn’t work out, we can turn it off.”

Tapping into Virtually Limitless Optimization

The city’s modernization plans include backing up its on-premises virtual servers on AWS in case of database failure. It also hopes to use AWS Direct Connect, a cloud service solution that makes it simple to establish a dedicated network connection from on premises to AWS, enabling it to better migrate big workloads.

On AWS, Port St. Lucie has been able to modernize its technology, become more agile in unprecedented times, and cut costs. Currently, five to six government employees are pursuing AWS certification. “We’re starting to use a lot of the serverless technologies as a way to build the next version of our in-house software on AWS, and we’re using the education that AWS has offered to us for our programmers and developers,” says Jones. “It’s much simpler for us to just use the cloud.”


About City of Port St. Lucie

Comprising 120 square miles and with a population of more than 195,000, the City of Port St. Lucie is the seventh largest city in Florida. In 2020 it was listed as No. 25 on SmartAsset’s list of Most Livable Mid-Sized Cities in the US.

Benefits of AWS

  • Spun up Amazon Chime in under 4 days
  • Has six employees pursuing AWS certification
  • Eliminated hardware costs
  • Outsourced database management to AWS
  • Increased scalability
  • Improved agility and innovation

AWS Services Used

Amazon Chime

Amazon Chime is a communications service that lets you meet, chat, and
place business calls inside and outside your organization, all using a
single application.

Learn more »

Amazon RDS

Amazon RDS makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

Learn more »

Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed, secure Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution. You can use Amazon WorkSpaces to provision either Windows or Linux desktops in just a few minutes and quickly scale to provide thousands of desktops to workers across the globe. 

Learn more »

Amazon S3

Amazon S3 is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

Learn more »


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