OMB strategy lays a path to the cloud

Friday - 2/18/2011, 7:08am EST

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The release of the federal government cloud computing strategy last week by Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra brings together all the initiatives agencies have been working on over the past two years.

From FedRAMP to data center consolidation to standards to ensure interoperability, the Office of Management and Budget has led the development of an assortment of programs to promote the adoption of cloud computing.

The strategy gives agencies a path to meet OMB's cloud-first policy where agencies must move three technologies off their network and onto the Internet over the next 18 months.

"The idea is all of this will line up," said Sanjeev Bhagowalia, the associate administrator in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, Thursday during the Cloud/Gov 2011 conference, sponsored by Software and Information Industry Association and Deltek-Input. "And then of course, to the cloud first policy, [OMB] will start monitoring those 70 cases and each one of these will be looked at from acquisition and from CIO. There will be a dashboard on this at some point and we will keep going. It's a first step in laying out a grand vision."

OMB states agencies spend about $20 billion a year on technology infrastructure that could be moved to the cloud.

"Following the publication of this strategy, each agency will re-evaluate its technology sourcing strategy to include consideration and application of cloud computing solutions as part of the budget process," the strategy states. "Consistent with the cloud-first policy, agencies will modify their IT portfolios to fully take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing in order to maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness, and minimize cost."

The guidelines provide agencies with examples and definitions of how to obtain the efficiencies, innovations and flexibilities of cloud computing. It also gives CIOs a three-step decision-making process-select, provision, manage. This is similar to the three-step process OMB has been promoting for the last decade for all IT projects-- select, control, evaluate.

OMB estimates that nine agencies could spend more than $1 billion each on cloud technologies. The departments of Homeland Security and Treasury top the list at more than $2.4 billion each. The departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Transportation could spend more than $2 billion each as well.

"We think we can save some that money by moving use cases at the low and moderate levels," Bhagowalia said. "The economics are driving this transformation. Cloud is not necessarily cheaper, but you can do certain things faster. We've been able to deploy capabilities in three months that would normally take nine months."

Several agencies already are seeing the benefits of cloud computing.

The Security and Exchange Commission moved 25 applications to the cloud. Thomas Bayer, SEC's CIO, said the benefits are clear for the agency. It can expand or contract storage or bandwidth based on need, and the cloud improves SEC's network uptime and stability.

VA has moved to a private cloud at a vendor's site for many of the applications that help it meet the requirements under the new GI Bill.

"We are finding that unless it's a public cloud deployment where you really don't care what's underneath it, the cost is not less for private clouds," said Stephen Warren, VA's principal deputy assistant secretary for Information and Technology. "Unless folks have come up with interesting things given the physical separation, it's not logical separation, it's a physical separation. A private cloud is not because I don't want to share; a private cloud is because I need to protect the information I have."

Warren added that VA is heeding some important lessons learned as it moves to the cloud.

He said most important VA made it clear to its vendor that the agency maintains ownership of the data and all business processes.

"As we make the transition to another vendor, if it happens, if you do this, you need to make sure you know how to do that," Warren said. "If you get into a situation where your contract is about to expire and you want to go to someone else, and they [the current vendor] own your business rules, you have a problem. You have to pay not only to get out, but to get in."

He said the intellectual property is the business rules that help agencies meet their mission.

Bayer said the SEC also puts specific provisions in its contracts to ensure ownership of data and business processes.

Warren and others say agencies must be careful, however, not to overstate the value of the cloud.

VA, GSA and others are moving many public facing websites and data to the public cloud where they will see cost savings. But the reasons to move to a private cloud or hybrid cloud are as much about money as for speed and agility, Warren said.

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