GSA to boost cloud computing with new RFP

Thursday - 4/28/2011, 8:01am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration is about to give the Obama administration's policy that requires agencies to use cloud computing a big boost.

GSA plans on releasing a request for proposals May 10 for e-mail-as-a-service that could be worth $2.5 billion.

Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, said Wednesday there are $20 billion in systems across the government that could move to the cloud, and email and collaboration software are among the easiest first steps.

"We already are seeing 15 agencies that have identified 950,000 e-mail boxes across 100 email systems that are going to move to the cloud," he said during an update on the administration's 25-point IT reform plan at the White House. "This represents a huge opportunity for [vendors] to aggressively compete for these new opportunities in the cloud space and provide the government with the best value and most innovative technologies."

Among those 15 agencies already on their way are the Agriculture Department and GSA. USDA is moving 120,000 employees to Microsoft's cloud, while GSA picked Unisys, which partnered with Google, to move as many as 30,000 employees to a new email system.

"We have moved 17,000 employees so far and move about 1,600 each night," said USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan during the White House event. "We expect to complete the migration by the end of the calendar year."

Daniel Poneman, Energy Department's deputy secretary, said Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory moved all calendar and email operations to Google email. He said the lab expects to save between $1.5 million and $2 million over the next five years.

GSA has been working on the email-as-a-service RFQ since last summer. It likely will be a blanket purchase agreement, similar to the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) contract GSA awarded to 11 vendors last October.

One of the biggest hurdles to getting the email-as-a-service solicitation out was the data ownership and data sovereignty issue. The hang up has been deciding how to address data centers outside the U.S., including who owns the data and which countries laws do the data come under.

Kundra said he's been working the State Department among others on this issue.

"We are dealing in a global economy and a lot of U.S. companies are the ones that stand to benefit from cloud computing revolution and the ability to sell into global markets," he said. "We are working these issues, thinking about the international issues of cloud computing."

Many in government and industry were especially concerned when GSA modified its internal contract for email-as-a-service to let providers host data outside the U.S.. Some in industry called it the "Google amendment."

Kundra would not comment directly on the new RFP and how they are addressing data center location requirements.

"We have to balance our interests, our national and economic interests, with how our interests as far as how we move forward in a safe and secure manner," he said. "I reject the notion you have to pick one or the other."

The difference between IaaS and email is the amount of money the BPAs are worth. GSA estimated infrastructure-as-a-service to be worth about $76 million. Kundra said email-as-a-service is worth billions.

And it's that potential opportunity for savings and improved services that Kundra and others in the administration see as the impetus for short and long term plans.

Kundra updated agency and industry officials on other parts of the 25-point IT plan announced in December. He said over the past 139 days the Office of Management and Budget led effort is on track to complete five of seven six-month milestones. Kundra said these five should be done by June 9.

Among those goals agencies are making progress on is data center consolidation. OMB expects agencies to close 137 data centers in 2011. Its goal is to close about 800 out of more than 2,000 by 2015.

"Agencies already have shut down 39 data centers and by the end of this year 98 more will be shut down," Kundra said. "The aggregate in terms of square footage, this equals to about 325,000 square feet of data center space. About five-and-a-half football fields."

Roger Baker, the Veterans Affairs Department CIO and assistant secretary for information and technology, said OMB focus on all these IT reform initiatives, but the data center consolidation effort more specifically, gives agencies much needed support.

"This [25-point plan] is a result of Vivek listening to a lot of folks and all the CIOs around government and implementing a plan we told him we thought we needed," Baker said. "Data center consolidation, we all agree on that. Better program management, we all agree on that. This is OMB putting its weight behind what the CIOs know they need to do."