Cloud is next step for HUD's IT infrastructure

Monday - 7/4/2011, 10:37am EDT

Jason Miller speaks with Mark Day, CTO, HUD

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Department of Housing and Urban Development already outsourced much of its network infrastructure under its HITS contract. Now the agency wants to take its infrastructure one step further and put it in the cloud.

HUD held its second industry day June 24 for its HUDNet program, which eventually will replace the $800 million HITS program, run by Lockheed Martin and Hewlett-Packard.

"HUDNet is a program that is looking at all the constituent pieces of the HITS program, all of its management pieces, the management framework around HITS," said Mark Day, HUD's chief technology officer, at a recent conference. "We are in the acquisition strategy phase. There will be RFPs coming out of this, but I can't go much further than that."

Day said the difference between outsourced or managed service contract and cloud is the elasticity. He said in a sense, HUD is in a private cloud that is virtualized, highly scalable and fairly agile.

"What is not there in a managed services contract is the business model of cloud. We do not have the elasticity. Prices do not go down when we use less," Day said. "Managed services is what you might consider the high water mark price. If we ever bought that much of the infrastructure, we pay for that much of the infrastructure. In a cloud, you go up and down as your needs change. That is really what we are doing. It's not a technical move for us. It's a business model move in the procurement realm."

Along with the two industry days, HUD issued a request for information in February.

In the RFI, the agency detailed five main areas, including hosting of its infrastructure in the cloud, self provisioning of capacity as needed and end-to-end monitoring of performance.

HUD is accepting comments, suggestions and recommendations on how to proceed through July 22.

HUD awarded Lockheed and EDS, which HP eventually bought, the HITS contract in 2005 to provide essentially all of HUD's IT infrastructure, information processing, telecommunications, storage, enterprise middleware, operating systems, end user computing and communications devices (except desktop telephony) and related needs on a nationwide, agencywide basis, as organized around 24 core functions reflecting HUD's various service needs.

No matter the approach HUD eventually chooses for its infrastructure, Day said the agency will need to do a few things, starting with improving the skills of its workforce.

"Now I need very savvy people to oversee that outsourced work. They need to understand IT, they need to understand metrics and management and remote management, if you will," he said. "And that is an interesting grouping of skills when in fact they will never do actual IT work for you. So how do you get the right people with both a savvy understanding of the subject and an understanding of the management of that subject and how to measure that subject? It's an interesting problem."

Day said HUD is looking at career ladders for employees to gain both of these skills.

Metrics is another challenge for HUD. He said the TechStat sessions has helped ensure the agency has the right ones for a limited number of high priority programs.

"We have used TechStat to inform the interest level of our programs and others in doing our internal approach," he said. "When they see they've got to do in front of OMB, it's very easy to decide we ought to do it internally first. We ought to have the practice right. We ought to have the answers right. And we ought to in fact emulate that because it has driven good decision making."

Day added TechStat sessions helped HUD focus in on the projects and metrics that really matter the most and how do they drive the agency's mission. HUD culled their list down to seven from 38 major IT projects.

"The ones that are the same are the obvious ones schedule, budget and time and that type of thing. But really the other metric most people are not doing well is what is the business outcome for this project and how well are we actually meeting the business outcome? And if we are off schedule, what is the opportunity loss? If we are overbudget, what is the cost of that budget compared to the return on investment for that project?"

He added it's a matter of figuring out the business goal of each project and then measuring what success looks like.

Day said TechStat also has helped HUD instill more rigor into the oversight of their IT programs.

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