Two cases for the cloud

Agencies weigh public versus private cloud computing options

Government agencies are turning to cloud computing for the flexibility and cost savings it offers. But after they make the decision to move to the cloud, they face another choice: Should they develop an internal cloud or pay an outside company to host and run the services?

Here are two examples of agencies that made different choices.

Public option

For its customer relationship management system, the Economic Development office of Arlington County, Va., is using a pay-for-service, cloud computing solution. Employees access the system via the Web, so the county doesn’t need to manage the hardware and software.

Officials considered buying a system they would host internally but decided it would be too expensive to manage, said Mike Goodrich, director of administration at Arlington Economic Development.

One company told the county it would need five servers to host the system. “Then we’d have to pay maintenance on those servers, so very quickly we were talking about a six-figure architecture,” Goodrich said. “That convinced us that a Web-based system was the way to go.”

The county chose Salesforce.com primarily for use as a contacts database and tracking tool for the county’s business statistics. For example, members of the economic development staff are assigned goals for bringing jobs to the county and filling commercial space. Salesforce.com allows county leaders to track those goals.

Before adopting the system, the county tracked those statistics using spreadsheets. The county’s business investment, real estate and tourism groups all used different spreadsheets, which made it difficult to integrate them and share information with county leaders.

The data is more integrated now because employees are using the unified cloud computing system, Goodrich said.

Cloud computing also has helped the county with emergency preparedness, Goodrich said, because it gives county employees the ability to work wherever they have access to an Internet connection.

“We’ve found having all of our contacts accessible through the cloud has really helped us to become much more flexible in the way we design work for our staff,” Goodrich said.

Another benefit is the ability to retain information when employees change positions or leave the county. “What it has done is documented our business processes,” Goodrich said. “So as those key positions are filled, we’re able to have the new hires come in and adopt the business processes that we’ve laid out.”

Private clouds

The Defense Information Systems Agency’s Rapid Access Computing Environment is a private cloud that lets Defense Department developers provision their own operating environments within the secure Defense Enterprise Computing Centers’ production environment.

For DOD, public cloud solutions did not offer the level of security necessary for sensitive data. However, leaders still wanted a cloud computing solution that had a user-friendly feel. RACE delivers that experience, said Dave Wennergren, deputy chief information officer at DOD.

RACE is a self-service portal that uses a shopping cart process for DOD members to acquire computing capacity, said Rick Fleming, practice principal for cloud computing at Hewlett-Packard, which developed the Web portal.

The portal’s billing module links to DOD’s finance system and accepts government credit cards.

“When you push the button on your shopping cart, within a matter of minutes, whatever you requested gets provisioned, and then you get an e-mail back saying, ‘Hey, here’s what you asked for. Here’s your host name, your password, your user ID,’ ” Fleming said.

The original version of RACE was for test and development environments. The system has been so popular that DISA recently released a second version, which allows DOD users to provision their own production environments.

Even though RACE is a private cloud, it offers benefits similar to those of public clouds, including cost savings, Fleming said. “You are sharing resources, and servers are not sitting under tables in your office,” he said.

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