The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami destroyed nearly every piece of social infrastructure and lifeline in the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011. Power, water and gas supplies were all interrupted in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, while communication lines in and out of the prefectures were cut.
Computers were of course no exception. The strength of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake, the largest in recorded Japanese history, knocked out many computers and servers and any that survived the quake were subsequently destroyed by the massive tsunami.
It was only days after the disaster that governments in the disaster-hit areas turned their attention to cloud computing outsourcing services as tools to meet the pressing demands of resuming municipal services as soon as possible. In the five years since the disaster, cloud computing services evolved to meet a wider variety of administrative demands, and have now entered into a new phase, industry officials said.
“In Miyagi Prefecture, the tsunami hit coastal areas particularly hard, and governments there lost all the necessary equipment to carry out their municipal work,” a Sendai official told The Japan Times. “They had no choice but to rely on cloud outsourcing services.”
Soon after the quake, the governments of those areas faced urgent needs to reopen their websites to disseminate support information to residents, as well as requests for volunteers, food, water, medical supplies and other necessities.
One of the benefits of using cloud outsourcing is that companies and other entities don’t require servers to set up a computerized environment. According to data collected by the Information-technology Promotion Agency, Japan, companies such as NEC Corp., Fujitsu Ltd. and IBM Japan offered free cloud outsourcing services for a limited period soon after the disaster.
The Sendai City Office, less damaged as it is located further inland, served as a distribution hub, collecting donated goods and reallocating them to hard-hit cities and towns. The distributed items included laptop computers for Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit cities in the region.
With only those computers and restored communications lines, they managed to reopen their homepages and mirror web sites only days after the disaster, the Sendai official said.
The quake hit the country at a time when the government was encouraging municipal governments to use cloud outsourcing services.
About two years before the quake, the government began test projects of the services that allow several cities and towns to share information systems in remote data centers, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The value of this idea was highlighted following the quake, according to the official.
“For example, after the quake, many municipal governments needed to provide financial subsidies to residents, a task which differed little from city to city. So, if there is a common information system for the task that can be saved in a package in one location, the system can be shared whenever needed. This allows for savings in both time and cost,” the Sendai official said.
As of January, 347 cities, towns and villages nationwide in 56 different regional groups use cloud outsourcing services to share information systems, covering more than 9.9 million people in Japan, according to the communications ministry. However, this still only represents 7.8 percent of the total population.
The idea of sharing information systems by local governments has now entered an advanced stage. The communications ministry said in November that the central government is now requesting that municipalities integrate their access routes to the Internet into one, which will be under the management and protection of the prefecture. In exchange for simplifying the access routes, the prefecture is required to apply tighter security to the single route, shutting out hackers attempting to access the community network and protecting municipal networks under their management.
“This is based on the project under the initiative of the communications ministry, amid the increasing number of cyberattacks targeting companies and government-related organizations,” said an official of Fuji Electric Co. The company announced last month a tie-up with IBM Japan to offer prefectural governments higher-level security services for the integrated Internet access routes.
In May last year, a security flaw at the Japan Pension Service allowed information leakage after a series of cyberattacks on the network, eventually resulting in the theft of more than 1 million citizens’ personal information, including names, addresses and birth dates.
“The idea of a prefectural network with a single Internet access aims to provide prefectural municipalities with safer cybersecurity,” the Fuji Electric official said. “It is just like a network umbrella of a prefecture with a bigger budget to spend for better security.”