FCW Forum | Cloud

Computing is a service

Agencies should ditch the old-school ownership mindset

OK, who out there uses e-mail? Everybody, right? A smart phone? How about Outlook? I see you.

It’s no surprise that federal agencies have, by and large, deployed the same messaging systems as the rest of the universe. Whether you’re working for Del Monte or the Army Department, chances are you use Microsoft Exchange on a day-to-day basis. While we techies know that, all the average users know (and care about) is that their e-mail and calendars work. The only time they think of the techies is when the gear doesn’t work. So please consider this solution: Get the Exchange servers out of your data center now.

I’m not telling you to ditch Microsoft and buy some new wonder software from someone else. What I’m saying is you don’t need the headache of maintaining all that hardware and software. Exchange, like lots of other technical infrastructure, is a standard. My e-mail and your e-mail work pretty similarly, and although there are agencies that will continue to need esoteric e-mail solutions (I’m looking at you, CIA), most won’t. The delivery of e-mail has been commoditized. So I repeat: Get rid of your Exchange servers.

Why? Because computing is a service, and doing things in-house is pound-foolish. It can take agencies as long as 18 months to roll out what private-sector companies can buy and deploy immediately, and building in-house systems is often done at 10 times the cost of commercially available products. I’m sure I could build something myself that would compete with my trusty Accord — for $250,000 — but why?

Granted, some agencies will still need to build some pretty unusual stuff (NASA, please stand up), but most are fine with the same productivity applications that everyone else uses. But I digress; we’re talking about your Exchange boxes, which you need to chuck, preferably before that next expensive refresh.

Before you do that, call the folks at the General Services Administration and tell them you’re using Exchange and you’d like them to handle it for you. They’ll say yes. GSA has operators standing by to provide you with homogenous services, like e-mail, bandwidth and other nifty applications. If Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra gets his way, GSA will be the tech services superstore for Uncle Sam and will deliver with a point and click like Amazon. Anyone remember that sweet WinZip deal GSA cut with the vendor a few years back? How’d you like the same deal on Oracle licenses? Don’t scoff. As superstore shoppers, you know that buying in bulk allows the seller to pass on big savings to you.

Are you ready to sign on the dotted line? I think you’ll be getting a great deal. Be sure to get a good service agreement, and if things aren’t working out, complain — to me. I’ll be sure to pass along the word to Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the White House and anybody else who reads my papers. Sold? Good. No, great! Oh, and by the way, welcome to the cloud.

About the Author

Chris Bronk is a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an adjunct instructor of computer science at Rice. He previously served as a Foreign Service Officer and was assigned to the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy.

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