Interior's business center enhances cloud offering

The Interior Department’s National Business Center is moving into software-as-a service

The Interior Department’s National Business Center (NBC) is on the verge of moving into the next release of a private cloud computing offering, giving agency users access to collaboration and social media software, June Hartley, chief information officer of the NBC has told attendees at cloud computing conference.

“Release 2 is coming up probably at the end of this week. There will be collaboration software and basic Web 2.0 capabilities. So it is our first offering of software-as-a-service,” Hartley said Feb. 24.

At the end of last year, NBC began providing infrastructure services, letting agency users order and set up virtual servers and computing resources through a Web portal; and platform-as-a-service, which offers development tools on top of the infrastructure service.

NBC has added more source control testing and performance tools to the platform as-a-service offerings and secure productions zones for agencies that want to use their production systems on the infrastructure, Hartley said.

Hartley spoke during a session on hosting cloud applications at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement Cloud Computing for DOD and Government Conference held in Alexandria, Va.

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Providing services via a cloud computing model was a natural move for NBC, which, as a shared service provider, offers federal agencies access to government financial management systems, human resources packages, acquisition automation and other enterprise applications.

Over the past three years, NBC has shored up its security architecture, implemented a service-oriented architecture, virtualization and set up dual data centers for failover in Denver, Colo. and Herndon, Va.

With that infrastructure in place, NBC officials said, “we can probably deliver cloud” services, Hartley said. Cloud computing offers agencies a pool of computer resources and services whenever they need them.

NBC created a portal for users to see what is offered, how much a small virtual machine will cost, how much memory they will need and details of a service provisioning agreement. They can probably provision a system within a couple of hours, Hartley said.

Security has been a major user concern in this computing model, Hartley said.

Hearing that human resource systems may share resources with acquisition or financial systems makes some agency officials nervous and they wonder how information will remain separated in cloud computing model, Hartley noted.

NBC achieves this through zone isolation, she said. Providers can’t physically separate boxes, but they can logically separate systems.

NBC also provides authentication with cross certification, continuous monitoring, encryption of data in transit and stored, enterprise access controls and vulnerability scanning.

“The biggest thing we developed in house was access control,” she noted.

“We did that with Tivoli Access Manager. There’s a lot of two-factor authentication to know who is coming in, who is provisioning and why,” Hartley said. NBC also performs monitoring and metering of usage so the clients know the amount of resources they are using each month.

Later this year, NBC will add more messaging and archiving capabilities to the software-as-a-service offering. “We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about being able to archive messages” and maps, Hartley said.

The center is also piloting a virtual desktop project and is hoping to enhance dynamic provisioning capabilities.

Agencies officials cannot afford to ignore the movement to cloud, especially with mandates from the Obama administration that require agencies to look for greater efficiencies through this computing model, Hartley said.

As a result, agencies should start to develop a cloud strategy and identify candidates for pilot projects. Areas that would be suited for the cloud include software development, e-mail messaging, collaboration and social media software, content management and portal environments, Hartley said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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