Rising Stars

Michael G. Meskill: Taking USDA to the cloud

Michael Meskill

Amazon. Hewlett-Packard. Lockheed Martin. The Agriculture Department.

Which of those does not belong? Actually, they all do because they are all government-compliant cloud service providers.

USDA's entry into the ranks of cloud vendors happened because of people like Michael Meskill. The USDA network architect was instrumental in creating a proof of concept that convinced the department's IT leaders to build a cloud-hosting platform for other agencies. The National Information Technology Center's cloud services are already saving USDA money, including $19.4 million in fiscal 2012.

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Meskill told FCW that the scale of the federal enterprise is part of the appeal of government work. "Forming a team of talented people and deploying a solution that will benefit a vast number of people throughout the country is the sort of opportunity that seldom presents itself in most IT jobs," he said.

USDA officials did not set out to compete with commercial cloud providers — they simply wanted to reduce computing costs. But it was hard to get a handle on those costs because of long procurement cycles and the difficulty of estimating computing needs years in advance. However, when the government's push to virtualization dramatically cut costs, Meskill said he was inspired to engineer virtualization levels that exceeded private-sector standards. USDA has gone as high as 50 virtual machines on a single host and has a goal of doubling that.

He also has big ambitions for USDA's cloud services. In five years, he said he hopes to be "giving Amazon and Rackspace some serious competition."


About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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