Adapting to cloud requires agility, flexibility

Speakers from the Transportation Department, FedEx and Manpower Inc. offer insights about cloud implementations

Agencies making the move to cloud computing must be agile over the next few years, gleaning knowledge from lessons learned by other organizations and making the necessary adjustments.

That was one of the recurring themes stated by speakers at an AFFIRM luncheon in Washington Oct. 13 that focused on “Federal Cloud: Beyond the Buzz.” Speakers from the Transportation Department, FedEx and Manpower Inc. spoke about cloud implementations, architecture, service-level agreements and security. The panel discussion was moderated by Peter Tseronis, the Energy Department's deputy associate CIO.

“We need agility at least for the next couple of years to take all of these lessons learned and make adjustments,” said Tim Schmidt, Transportation's chief technology officer,  in answering a question on how agencies should determine that their service providers are providing adequate backup storage capabilities.

Transportation's headquarters is using Terremark as a cloud service provider to support its portal and DOT.gov Web sites and other departmental level applications. At Transportation, planning for the move to cloud computing, a computing model that involves the delivery of services over the Internet or intranets, began about a year ago, Schmidt said. The service has been up for more than, he said.

To sell the business case for cloud computing to senior management, Transportation's IT officials compared the move with virtualization, which the agency had done and so it was a model people understood. In fact, advances in virtualization have paved way for cloud computing. Virtualization can make a single physical resource — such as a server, operating system or storage device — appear to function as multiple resources. Or it can make multiple physical devices appear as a single resource.

Schmidt said Transportation also looked at other parts of the department doing cloud computing such as the Federal Aviation Administration and brought those people into a “consortium of people who could grab onto ownership.” They eventually went back and sold the cloud computing concept to their leadership, he said.

Transportation officials are looking at the security implications of the cloud very carefully but is not going to be risk averse, he said. The department is not going to stop every time it is unsure about how to implement certain procedures or technology.

Down the road it is possible that the department might consider a more shared services approach as agencies are doing with the Trusted Internet Connection. Why does Transportation need its own cloud? Why can’t it share with other departments? Transportation has already conditioned its leadership to think this way, he said.

Michael Rains, technical lead for cloud computing at FedEx, also spoke about the shared services nature of cloud computing. The company has turned to Appistry as its cloud services provider.

He noted how developers at the company were used to developing their own business rules and everything else for their applications. But “cloud computing is SOA [service-oriented architecture], more object-oriented, dividing the pieces up,” he said. “It is best practices.” At first, application developers weren’t used to developing pieces and handing things off to others. But once they bought into the shared service mentally, they saw they could get things developed a lot sooner, he said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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