First Person

GSA and the cloud broker model

Mary Davie

The assistant commissioner of integrated technology services clarifies GSA's role and plans for supporting agencies' move to the cloud.

To deliver on its mission to provide the best value to the federal government and taxpayers, the General Services Administration explores any acquisition strategy or business model that can save the government time and money and allow it to gain access to critical technologies faster than ever before.

To that end, GSA — in collaboration with NASA and the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, and Defense — published a request for information in July 2012 to explore the idea of a cloud brokerage. The RFI was issued in an effort to gain input from industry on how GSA could better deploy a cloud services brokerage to maximize the government's adoption and efficient use of cloud computing services.

It is worth noting that the concept of a cloud broker covers a number of roles that Gartner, a leading expert on IT markets, has summarized as aggregator, integrator and customizer. Each of those roles can entail a number of functions. Our current research is looking into each role and function and determining which, if any, are appropriate for GSA's role in acquisition support for cloud procurement and services for the government.

If our market research does not indicate value to the government in proceeding with a broker-based offering, then we will not proceed.

Various implementation models are possible and were proposed in the RFI responses. The cloud broker need not be a holistically outsourced entity subsuming all roles, nor could it in the government space under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Other models include GSA as the broker deploying software tools to leverage greater spending power with service providers, and still others deal with integration and customization services providing broad cloud migration support to agencies.

One of the potential benefits of cloud brokerage services is that the brokers could identify competitive services and provide ongoing competition among cloud providers to encourage both price reductions and continual updates of the technology.

To understand how a cloud broker, in any of the various roles identified, might improve government success in using cloud computing, GSA has sought insight from independent research. For example, through a worldwide survey, Gartner identified that more than 40 percent of IT managers believe that a cloud broker service adds value when selecting a cloud service provider.

Evaluating industry input

Interest in the government's RFI was extremely high. The RFI information day had more than 140 participants from more than 60 industry partners looking to share their knowledge.

A diverse mix of businesses formally responded to the RFI, whose language was purposely broad in scope to elicit suggestions on possible approaches. GSA received varied interpretations of the potential scope. We received:

• 81 responses — 54 percent from large businesses, 42 percent from small businesses and 4 percent from midsize businesses.

• 1,481 pages of information.

Of the 81 respondents:

• 77 percent were considered to be in favor of a cloud brokerage model.

• 11 percent were neutral.

• 12 percent were against the model.

GSA conducted Round 1 deep-dive discussions with a number of RFI respondents, including those who were against the concept, in February. GSA then selected a subset of those respondents for Round 2 discussions with the participation of representatives of the original brainstorming group.

In addition to demonstrating tools and solutions, those discussions focused on studying and evaluating different cloud brokerage models and how GSA and federal agencies could benefit. Some of the most valuable information we received were use cases on how cloud brokerage models would actually work, how they are being deployed today and the toolsets being used today.

Next steps

As a cross-government business model, cloud brokerage is new to government, but the idea is already in use. At the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, officials have adopted a cloud brokerage model called YOURcloud. In addition, the Texas Department of Information Resources has implemented and extended a pilot cloud brokerage program.

Other agencies are also exploring the cloud brokerage landscape. The Defense Information Systems Agency released its own RFI in 2012 to explore enterprise cloud brokerage services for DOD and recently announced that the organization had reached initial operational capability. And both HHS and DHS are conducting market research into the adoption of a cloud brokerage model.

GSA has engaged with other government agencies that have implemented a cloud broker model, including NNSA and Texas, to obtain an understanding of their experiences and gather lessons learned.

At GSA, we are currently gearing up to launch the cloud broker proof-of-concept (POC) phase. We have already engaged cornerstone stakeholder agencies — such as DHS, HHS, GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and potentially Justice — that will participate in shaping and evaluating the implementation to help guide next steps and determine a viable model.

GSA expects to release a solicitation for the POC phase, which will implement tools and processes to demonstrate technical and operational capabilities and identify challenges. If the POC phase demonstrates the path to a viable model for GSA and our cornerstone stakeholders, we will then develop a full concept of operations and a business case to seek support for an acquisition to pursue any future offerings related to cloud services brokers.

GSA will not be outsourcing our intermediary role to the private sector.

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