Cloud

Cloud offers a taste of Silicon Valley on the Potomac

hands and cloud

The cloud is still a nebulous term for some, but early adopters in the government have proven that cloud computing – whether for storage, platform-, software- or infrastructure-as-a-service – offers numerous improvements to the government’s traditional IT business model.

Speaking at a Jan. 21 Webcast on government cloud brokerage, Keith Trippie, executive director of the Enterprise System Development Office at the Department of Homeland Security, said cloud already brings a few tastes of Silicon Valley to Washington.

Cloud,  coupled with FedRAMP, the government’s standardized approach to security, has further potential to improve agencies’ speed to market and innovation capabilities while reducing up-front capital costs all across government, Trippie said.

He speaks from experience. DHS has nine private cloud computing environments and three public clouds. All its 112,000 employees use the cloud for email, and private clouds are used by 30,000 employees for collaboration and other purposes.

“We’ve got into the cloud space and cut our teeth on it, now we’re ready for the next thing,” Trippie said.

Because cloud service providers must attain FedRAMP compliance – meeting a common set of security standards – Trippie said agencies have increased flexibility when things get cloudy.

“Imagine a world where there’s a buffet table, and if you want steak, you eat steak, if you want chicken, you eat chicken,” Trippie said, likening FedRAMP-complaint cloud service providers to a buffet of IT possibilities. FedRAMP’s web portal lists double-digit FedRAMP-compliant cloud service providers with more than a dozen in the pipeline, meaning the government’s cloud service provider buffet is about to get bigger.

Cloud computing’s flexibility might help the government tackle difficult business decisions in IT acquisition and budgeting by favoring agile approaches  over massive waterfall projects that require boatloads of cash up-front.

“It helps our ability to move laterally,” Trippie added. “There’s a lot less capital out there to build things. Time-to-market, cost-to-market, what’s the return on investment? Those questions will be more quickly done in this new business model.”

In other words, if a cloud solution isn’t working like it should, an agency can “go from one provider to another” a lot faster than previously possible.

The cloud can also prove beneficial for agencies looking to stand up an IT solution in short order, and storage is just scratching the surface, said Maria Roat, FedRAMP director at the General Services Administration.

Roat highlighted emergency response as a key use case that favors cloud computing. When disasters like Hurricane Sandy strike, tens of thousands of emergency responders from FEMA and other agencies spring to action. Cloud offers fast scalability to accommodate such cases.

“You can quickly build an environment up and back down again,” Roat said.

GSA and others are also using cloud to “drive applications,” taking more advantage of virtual environments than ever before.

“A lot of capabilities are out there in the cloud,” Roat said. “Agencies need to think through how best to use that.”

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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