OMB launches cloud storefront, Apps.gov

Tuesday - 9/15/2009, 3:31pm EDT

Jason Miller, Federal News Radio executive editor

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The Office of Management and Budget's vision for federal information technology begins today with the launch of Apps.gov.

The cloud computing storefront is part of a decade long plan to reduce costs, lower the environmental impact and improve how Americans receive government services.

"We have been building data center after data center and acquiring application after application and frankly what that has done is it has driven up costs and investments in technology across the board and it has led to the doubling of energy consumption from 2000 to 2006," says Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, today at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

"We cannot continue in this trajectory because there is innovation that is happening across the country and what we need to be able to do is find a more innovative path in addressing some of these challenges and problems."

Kundra says cloud computing is the first step in that innovative path.

With the launch of Apps.gov, Kundra says agencies should find it easier to address some of their infrastructure needs at a lower cost. He had hoped to make the Apps.gov announcement last week at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington.

"For far too long, what CIO's have done across federal agencies is they've focused on deploying infrastructure and data centers rather than solving some of the toughest problems we face, making sure we are addressing problems around education, health care and energy and leveraging technologies. And making sure that what we don't continue to build what we can leverage that may already exist in the private sector or what already exists in the public sector," he says.

Apps.gov, which runs on the General Services Administration's GSA Advantage engine, offers access to services such as business applications, social media tools, productivity software and cloud IT services.

Some of the software is free, such as the Web 2.0 applications, while others cost money, such as the IT dashboard or document and content management.

GSA does not yet have any vendors under cloud IT services as it is reviewing bids for infrastructure-as-a-service, and has not yet released request for proposals for software- and platform-as-a-service.

"The storefront is similar to the way you or I can buy books or buy electronics online," he says. "We want to make sure we lower barriers in federal agencies to acquire these services or applications."

Kundra says agencies already are using Apps.gov. He says the Energy Department was among the first to download or buy software from the store.

"One big barrier has been the process to acquire cloud computing," Kundra says. "We want to streamline the process, move toward central certification so industry doesn't have to get certified from every agency to offer their solutions. We also want to make sure we are focused on business problems, and not just the technology itself."

As one example he points to is GSA's use of cloud computing for USA.gov.

He says GSA was spending $2.5 million a year to host and maintain the site and it would take six months to upgrade the platform. But by moving it to the cloud, GSA is paying $800,000 a year and upgrades happen in 24 hours.

NASA also is jumping onto the cloud. Along with the Apps.gov announcement, NASA Ames launched its cloud platform, called Nebula.

According to NASA Ames Web site, Nebula "integrates a set of open-source components into a seamless, self-service platform, providing high-capacity computing, storage and network connectivity using a virtualized, scalable approach to achieve cost and energy efficiencies. The fully-integrated nature of the Nebula components provide for extremely rapid development of policy-compliant and secure Web applications, fosters and encourages code reuse, and improves the coherence and cohesiveness of NASA's collaborative Web applications."

NASA says when Nebula is completed it will offer infrastructure-, software- and platform-as-a-service on a public/private cloud.

Along with Apps.gov, OMB is directing agencies to launch cloud pilots around collaboration, messaging, lightweight work flows in 2010, and in 2011 there will be budget guidance for agencies to move services onto the cloud.

And OMB wants to address the security and privacy concerns around cloud computing.

"We will be evaluating all these policies guidances within the federal government to figure out what changes need to be made that are pragmatic, that are responsible," he says.

"We are challenging industry to also step up and address some of the security concerns the federal government has, to make sure information and data federal government has must be protected and must be secure."