Got an App for that? Not quite yet

Government's App Store launches with sparse offerings

One of the main goals of the new Apps Storefront launched by the General Services Administration last week is to let agencies buy cloud-computing services as easily as a consumer can acquire a Gmail or Facebook account.

However, that envisioned experience will largely have to wait, said Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer. A few offerings are available, but vendors will have to pass a review to verify their compliance with federal regulations such as the Federal Information Security Management Act. 

The initial applications that will receive certification will be for low-risk services such as public blogs and public-affairs announcements, said Casey Coleman, GSA's CIO. Vendors that pass the review will be allowed to offer their services on Apps.gov. The reviews will be public and transparent, so vendors won't have to repeat the process to satisfy new customers, Coleman said.

There a few cloud services available for sale on Apps.gov now that have not gone through the certification process, Kundra said. The store is organized under four categories: business apps, productivity apps, cloud IT services and social-media apps. Some of the subcategories are empty while others have offerings from Google and Salesforce.com.

Under the social-media category there are several free offerings. Agencies can acquire Wordpress, a blogging tool, for example.

In a separate effort, Google plans to offer a government version of Google Apps in a dedicated environment within undisclosed Google facilities in the United States, according to Matthew Glotzbach, Google's director of enterprise product management. The federal version of Google Apps should be available sometime in 2010, he said.

Glotzbach said the facilities used for the government version of Google Apps will be separate from business customers and will meet the security requirements of FISMA. To comply with FISMA, Google will have to put the employees who oversee the operations through specific background checks mandated by agencies. Government services would have to reside on their own servers and be accessed only by approved personnel.

Even for low-risk services, the certification process might be challenging, said Bruce Hart, chief operating officer for IT infrastructure provider Terremark’s federal practice.

“From the perspective of security, GSA was careful, in its recent request for services to be sold via the storefront, to ensure requirements for two-factor authentication, FISMA low-impact standards, background checks for service-delivery employees, and assurance that all federal data and applications remain in continental United States,” he said.

Apps.gov is the administration’s latest step toward developing more useful tools for agencies to do their jobs, Kundra said.

Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said Apps.gov is the first version of many similar purchasing Web sites to come. GSA’s other online store, GSA Advantage, can’t offer everything. Apps.gov won’t overshadow Advantage though, he said. Agencies largely buy commodities off of Advantage, so it has its place for now at least.

Adjusting to a new way of buying technology will also be a challenge for federal agencies, said Venkatapathi Puvvada, a vice president at Unisys Federal Systems.

“Cultural barriers will be continual challenges, but we can help to address this through proactive education on the benefits of cloud computing,” he said.

About the Authors

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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