Energy lab's move to Google apps allows flexibility, scalability

Friday - 11/18/2011, 6:34pm EST

Brent Stacey, CIO, Idaho National Lab

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By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The Idaho National Laboratory is moving 5,000 employees to Google apps. The laboratory is using Unisys to run the transition and maintain operation.

"We at the Idaho National Laboratory are looking to move to what we call a high performance workplace," said Brent Stacey, chief information officer and information management director at the Idaho National Lab. He recently spoke to In Depth with Francis Rose about the progress of the transition.

"We're trying to invest in capability rather than technology," Stacey said. "As part of that process, we look at where we need to invest for the future and what commodities we need to divest ourselves of so that we can focus our people in the right directions."

According to Stacey, in choosing Google apps, the Idaho National Laboratory went through a standard, federal procurement process. "We were not looking for trying to reduce costs, we were looking for the best value," he said. "And when we compared functionality and the cost, Google was awarded the contract based on those requirements."

In the last five years, the laboratory has doubled in size, and the new technology presented a degree of flexibility for the larger agency.

"With a lot of these cloud-computing solutions, you pay on a monthly basis, based on use," Stacey said. "So, it allows us to scale or be more nimble and flexible to huge growth or areas where we have a project that's reduced in size. We can be fairly nimble in how we respond to those and the cost structure."

First step to the cloud

As the first step in its overall cloud strategy, the laboratory is taking the next month or so to run a pilot with 75 people, primarily using IT staff as well as a selection of personnel from across the laboratory.

"The purpose of that pilot is to really investigate the functionality of the cloud and to make sure that the functionality that we believe is there is there, and it's robust and it performs to what the requirements were," Stacey said.

Once the first pilot is completed, a second pilot of 300 people will kick off in March, focusing on the lab's internal processes for transitioning mail and educating employees. If both pilots are successful, the entire lab will adopt the solution in April.

Many federal agencies are at various stages in the same transition process that the Idaho National Laboratory is undergoing. Stacey shared some of the lessons he learned along the way.

"Number one, we underestimated the negotiation period," he said. "We assumed it was going to be a month or two and it was about five months. The partnership with your supply chain people and the partnership that you have with legal and export control and the other elements of security in your organization are critical. And then, overall, I would say an investment early on in making sure that you have the right requirements going forward is critical. So, those are the three things that I think we learned pretty quickly in this process."

According to Stacey the lab has been actively involved with the office of CIO in the Department of Energy, working with other labs in the department and sharing experiences of the process. "I think that's a good group for lessons learned," he said.