NASA upgrades IT for now with eye on future

Wednesday - 2/22/2012, 8:56pm EST

Linda Cureton & Gary Cox, NASA

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

NASA is upgrading and revamping its technology infrastructure not just for today, but also for tomorrow and for five years from now.

For instance, NASA chief information officer Linda Cureton is starting to analyze how voice in the cloud would work.

"The field matures faster than our budgets and planning cycles," Cureton said. "We might plan now for fiscal 2014 to do something, but this could change four times between now and then. We want a flexible type of approach so we can take advantage of some of these opportunities as they come up. Voice-as-a-service is one of them because it's really coming out very fast."

The backbone of this effort to prepare for the future are the three technology infrastructure contracts under its IT Infrastructure Integration Program (I3P) NASA awarded last year worth more than a combined $4 billion.

Under I3P, NASA is consolidating five separate contracts, and adding more and newer technology capabilities. And in a short period, NASA already is seeing huge benefits for I3P.

Gary Cox, NASA's associate CIO for enterprise services and integration and I3P program leader, said under the Agency Consolidated End-user Services (ACES) contract employees are getting daily back up services and better security tools, including data-at-rest.

"We've been without refreshes for quite a while heading into this," Cox said. "Now users are getting new the hardware and it's pretty robust and well configured. We have our gold build on this which is [Microsoft] Windows 7 and Office 2010 so things are coming up the latest standards."

Cox added NASA expects to see about 22 percent savings from ACES over the course of a year, and a 30 percent discount on products under the vendor's catalog.

Under the Enterprise Applications Service Technologies (EAST) contract, Cox said NASA switched contract types from a cost-plus to a firm fixed price.

"One good thing it does for us is allows more insight and granularity into what it costs to support particular applications," Cox said. "As the budget environment becomes more constrained, we will be able to make better decisions about which applications we support and to what extent."

Cureton said a secondary goal for NASA under the EAST contract is more innovation in software development, and under ACES is to make data accessible from anywhere, at anytime and through any device.

The third contract is the NASA Integrated Communications Services (NICS) where it will create an end-to-end network for mission and support organizations.

Cox said one of the biggest benefits is the agency now has a single incident tracking system for network problems.

"We think that improves the management of the network and responsiveness to the customers," he said. "Right now we are focused on catching the services at each of the centers, picking up their local area network and in some cases, telecommunication and cable plant services, making sure we don't drop any of those."

Cox added in the future a common virtual private network through NICS is in the works.

NASA has two more contracts in the works as well.

The agency issued a draft request for information earlier this month for cloud services for hosting of public websites and other external applications under the Web Enterprises Services and Technology (WEST) contract.

"We're still pulling together a procurement schedule on this," Cox said. "A lot of this will depend on the extent of comments we get from industry."

NASA had awarded the small business set-aside WEST contract to the Portal Group in August.

A losing bidder protested the award to the Small Business Administration, and the SBA deemed the winner and the protestor not to be small businesses.

The agency cancelled the award in October, and changed the strategy for the acquisition.

NASA now expects to release the request for proposals for WEST by June 30 and make an award by April 30, 2013.

The other contract is for NASA enterprise data centers (NEDC). Cureton pulled that one off the street to figure out how cloud computing fits into NASA's plan.

Cox said the goal under this program is to have a local and reliable data center for each NASA Center and then having some specialized data centers for mission areas, such as high end computing.

"We are consolidating, but certainly we will not get down to one or two," he said.

Cureton said most of the data center consolidation work has been at the centers, and the local contracts can meet their needs.

"We looked at the low hanging fruit of cost savings, which is in power and utilities," she said. "We have a creative project and that has helped us measure and monitor some of the benefits that we've seen from the consolidation. The other thing we found is that we can get a great benefit not just from consolidating, but by modernizing, using newer equipment that uses less energy has saved us a lot of money."

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