FTC, SEC using cloud to create path to innovation

Friday - 8/8/2014, 9:07am EDT

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The Federal Trade Commission issued a roadmap for updating its computer networks and software. And the starting line is in the cloud.

Bajinder Paul, the CIO of the Federal Trade Commission, said this modernization effort is about how cloud computing can more quickly bring operational capabilities to employees, aggregate policies and major acquisition initiatives across the agency and, most importantly, create a path for innovation.

Paul, who came to FTC last September after spending almost three years as deputy associate administrator in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology at the General Services Administration, said there are some obvious opportunities where cloud computing can make a big difference.

"In our messaging platform and our wireless solution, these are opportunities where we can achieve cost savings, we can improve mission performance, availability, reliability and reduce the footprint of the data center by leveraging cloud computing," he said. "The second part of the mission is to establish a mobile computing platform. Like any other agency, our workforce is highly mobile and we depend on truly having secure access to information anytime, anywhere and on any platform. The ability to be able to launch a secure mobile application from those platforms, to be able to conduct the transactions of the agency is highly important."

Paul said the FTC also wants better data analytics tools that reside in the cloud to take advantage of the enterprise applications that is bringing in more and more data.

"We are taking a very practical approach to modernizing our infrastructure. It is based on those incremental milestones, three months, six months and nine months," he said. "Our point of departure is really focused on the messaging platform that we want to leverage, cloud. Email is our first component. We are looking to leverage a cloud solution by the end of the calendar year. We are also looking at leveraging mobile device management solutions and having a choice of mobile platforms for the users. There's also a high degree of interest for bring-your- own-device at the FTC. In terms of a timeframe, we are potentially looking at the end of the year for that movement to take place."

SEC cloud effort well underway

While the FTC's journey into the cloud is just starting, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been knee deep for a few years.

Thomas Bayer, the SEC's CIO, said during the same panel that his agency already has 50 applications in the cloud as part of a modernization effort over the last three years. He said the SEC moved its call center support, human resources, training and assorted back-office applications to the cloud.

"Last year, we recently moved all of our technology from in-house data centers and a public data center to two new data centers and we essentially replaced our entire infrastructure within those data centers," he said. "That would be a private cloud infrastructure for us. They are not data centers that we control ourselves. We lease space, power and cooling from those vendors. It's been a great transition for us. It has allowed us to improve our reliability and up-time and also reduce our overall cost of operation."

But the real benefit of the cloud, Bayer said, is obvious when it comes to the SEC's website and EDGAR financial filing system.

"We get about 2.5 billion hits every month on that site. That's equal to weather.com during Hurricane Sandy," he said. "That was moved into the cloud. We did that because we had a problem with filings of IPOs."

Bayer said when Facebook filed its documents, SEC.gov received 100 million hits in an hour because of redirects from The New York Times, TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, from Bloomberg and others directing people to look at the S-1 filing in SEC.gov.

"SEC.gov itself didn't crash. We didn't have enough bandwidth to serve up all that traffic," he said. "So by the time, three weeks later, when the S-1 was refilled by Facebook, we had moved to a vendor in the cloud and what we saw was about 300 percent refresh rate improvements and the cost was reduced by 38 percent, and we had basically unlimited bandwidth."

Bayer said over last two years the SEC realized the cloud was its only option for its website and EDGAR system as traffic grew by leaps and bounds. At the same time, the cloud also has enabled SEC to add more capabilities, such as full text search to search all filings and data.

"We are looking for additional applications we can leverage, particularly within the analytical space. We, like the FTC, intake a tremendous amount of data. Just to give you an idea, market data is about a petabyte-in-a-half to two petabytes a day," he said. "We have a proposal on the table, which is called the consolidated audit trail, where we will collect all that information through a third party and then analyze that data. We do that today in part by an application called MIDAS."

Through MIDAS, investors can find stock transactions and options analyses. SEC put MIDAS in a public cloud currently.

"We are also in the process of moving our core technology into the cloud writ large. For example, we are now moving our development capabilities from a test and development perspective into the cloud as well," Bayer said. "Soon you will find more of the SEC in public and FedRAMP based cloud services than you will in our private cloud."

Bayer said the cloud also is helping the SEC use IP version 6 and offer applications and data through mobile platforms more easily.

He said the agency sees about 35 percent to 40 percent of its traffic coming from tablets, and that will only increase.

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