Why small bites make sense for cloud

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For federal agencies that are just getting used to the idea of moving to the cloud, taking small steps at first can make things easier down the road, said Karen Petraska, service executive for computing services at NASA.

"Procurement in government is cumbersome and hardly agile," Petraska said June 21 during a panel discussion on how to buy cloud technology at Amazon Web Services' Public Sector Summit. Therefore, taking smaller bites to learn what works and what doesn't is a good approach, she added.

Cloud products and services don't necessarily fit into traditional fixed-price contracting, and it requires some upfront thinking by the agency before moving ahead, she said.

That's where a trial contract can help. Petraska said pilot projects can later be expanded and adjusted to eliminate elements that didn't work. She added that using open-ended questions in requests for information can lead to more innovative solutions from vendors.

Although Petraska said acquiring cloud services requires a different way of approaching procurement, traditional techniques can be tweaked to accommodate them. For instance, NASA's Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement vehicle has been an instrumental part of the agency's cloud work, she said. SEWP is open to all agencies to buy IT gear and services without a cumbersome development process.

Petraska said she uses "non-specific ordering" on procurement documents, which essentially creates a refillable "Starbucks card" for NASA employees who buy cloud services. That gives her the ability to bill users every 30 days.

"It allows people to get itemized bills and see what they're paying for," she added.

The arrangement also enables NASA to adjust services when a big event or program is planned, such as the release of Mars photos on its website.

SEWP can issue statements of work that give agencies varying levels of control over their services. For example, NASA chose a high level of control over its data and made sure it retained intellectual property rights to all its data, she said.

When developing a cloud contract, she advised agencies to think about what will happen when the agreement ends. "If you're going to get a divorce, make sure you can take your stuff with you," she said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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