Federal agencies move closer to cloud computing

Friday - 8/7/2009, 4:36pm EDT

David Mihalchik

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio

Cloud computing is no longer a pie-in-the-sky dream for many federal agencies.

FederalNewsRadio has been telling you about the evolving technology, and about the fact that the General Services Administration recently issued a request for quotation (RFQ) to vendors to establish the first part of a cloud computing storefront.

David Mihalchik is Google's business development manager for the federal space.

On Friday's Daily Debrief, he talked with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris about the benefits of cloud computing -- and how it could help save both time and money.

"The federal government is the single largest buyer of Information Technology in the world. It's spending more than $75 billion a year on IT. About 40 percent of that is spent on building, owning and maintaining IT infrastructure. So, not only is the government spending too much today on IT infrastructure, but, in many cases, it's not keeping up with the pace of technology innovation."

This, Mihalchik said, is often due to the long procurement cycles that have agencies purchasing technology years in advance, only to find that, once it's implemented, it's out of date.

Thus, cloud computing could be -- and sometimes already is -- a perfect solution to this problem.

Cloud computing itself, however, is still evolving. Different people employ different definitions, which sometimes leads to confusion, although that does seem to be changing.

"I think there's a definition around infrastructure. There's a definition around software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service. I think that the government is sending a signal around infrastructure and cloud computing and in the direction that it's headed here."

Additionally, Mihalchik said GSA's RFQ sends a clear signal that the government is moving to execute and implement a governmentwide initiative on cloud computing.

"This is the first major [RFQ] around cloud computing to be released, and it's focused on leveraging cloud capabilities from commercial providers. It's not an acquisition for the government to build its own cloud. I think that's very, very important and very telling."

The Obama Administration is focusing initially on the existing capabilities in the private sector, Mihalchik added. Currently, the federal government is looking at companies, such as Amazon and Google, to get a better idea of where they want to go.

"I think what's important is that the government leverage the capabilities that are available today. When it comes to cloud computing, the real benefit that's offered to government is dramatic cost savings and improved performance. The best way to take advantage of those capabilities is to utilize the capabilities that are already there. When government is utilizing those capabilities without building it on its own, it's getting the innovations faster and it doesn't have to wait two or three years for a data center to be built by the government, and it doesn't have to expend upfront capital costs."

If and when cloud computing takes off at every agency, Mihalchik said it will give the federal government much more flexibility.

Agencies would be able to take advantage of as much -- or as little -- technology as they want without having to wait for months to deploy.

"I think, like all other technologies, agencies will take a close and honest examination and self-assessment of their requirements and decide what is best for them. I think that when it comes to email in particular, that there's a general consensus developing that cloud computing represents a very important way forward for these commodity applications that are in the enterprise."

Security, however, is a big concern.

Part of GSA's idea is to build a cloud with applications and capabilities that are constructed specifically for the federal government, removing the question of whether or not something is secure.

"Certification and accreditation for cloud computing is very, very important and it's very important for federal customers. I think that GSA is focusing on security and that question of how government agencies certify and accredit cloud computing offerings in this [RFQ]. I think what we're seeing is that there will be a common owner in the government for certification and accreditation for cloud computing offerings."

Mihalchik added that a cloud computing environment can be evaluated under FISMA, just like any other IT tool.

"I think that when FISMA comes into the picture and agencies have a clear understanding of how cloud computing meets FISMA requirements, that that will clear the air and answer many outstanding questions that may exist on security."

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio -- GSA issues first solicitation for cloud computing

FederalNewsRadio -- OMB eyes Sept. 9 to launch cloud storefront

FederalNewsRadio -- GSA CIO Casey Coleman talks cloud computing

FederalNewsRadio -- Government IT Solutions Spotlight with NIST's Peter Mell

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