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Agriculture Dept. Eyes Cloud For Geospatial Imagery

Farm Service Agency wants cloud service to host aerial images of farm boundaries for agency programs.

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The Department of Agriculture has used cloud services to move off of in-house systems for email and collaboration. Now it is now looking to leverage the technology to support a system that Farm Service Agency (FSA) personnel use to access geospatial data and imagery.

The FSA is seeking ideas on how to use commercially available Web-based services to provide a base layer for its geospatial information systems, according to request for information (RFI) posted on

As part of its IT modernization program, the FSA uses a thin-client model that leverages Web services to access geospatial aerial imagery of farm boundaries that personnel use for farm-related programs.

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FSA acquires the imagery on a three-year contract basis from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), which is managed and distributed by the Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO). The APFO, in turn, builds Web services so the images can be used daily by more than 2,000 FSA state and county offices to maintain databases and manage farm programs, according to the department.

The FSA currently maintains the hardware and software infrastructure to support those Web services but is exploring options for a pilot project that would use a commercial Web-based system of image collection, data hosting, service provisioning, and related services to replace it, according to the RFI.

Specifically, the department is looking for a service that can provide current imagery for any one of 11 NAIP states--California, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming--so the FSA can compare the service with the NAIP collection of images.

If the department releases a request for proposal for the service, the provider will be responsible for all imagery, hardware, and software infrastructure to support the contract, according to the RFI.

Former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra mandated a "cloud first" policy requiring federal agencies to consider cloud-based options first when implementing new IT projects, as well as to identify existing systems to move to the cloud--a strategy current CIO Steven VanRoekel has continued. As a result agencies over the last two to three years have been exploring ways to cut costs and achieve new IT efficiencies by doing away with in-house systems in favor of hosted services.

The Department of Agriculture already has one major cloud project under its belt: the transition of 120,000 employees and contractors from a back-end system to Microsoft Exchange Online and other hosted services for e-mail and collaboration.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calcula¬tion seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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