10:29 AM

Datalink Lets Feds Test Drive Cloud

New service offers federal agencies a way to evaluate different cloud systems that align with their own configurations before they commit to a provider.

Federal agencies planning on moving IT operations to the cloud now have a way to look before they leap. A new service offering from On Demand provides a laboratory where agencies can test and evaluate different cloud configurations that incorporate many, if not most, of their systems resources.

"We have built a set of services based on the common and popular technologies, strategies and architectures [already in place] to let people come and evaluate them," said Kent Christensen, practice director for virtual data center/cloud at Datalink, based in Eden Prairie, Minn. "We allow them to test drive it."

Federal managers who are trying to judge whether to go with a "one-stop" solution such as Amazon or a hybrid cloud with both public and private cloud components can look at how those possibilities will work with their installed technology, whether it includes Cisco, VMware, HP or many other familiar products, or all of them, Christensen said. Such a trial run can identify which cloud solution will meet the agency's needs and clarify what investments and process changes are needed. "Let's see how it works conceptually, how it aligns to your organization's services and processes," he said.

[ Could test drives help expedite agencies' transition to the cloud? Read Feds Face Cloud Procurement Confusion, Delays. ]

The service helps federal agencies assess the impact of moving to the cloud, prompted initially by the cloud-first directive issued by the Office of Management and Budget in February 2011.

But it is an uneasy transition. Agencies have huge infrastructure investments in place and limited budgets to make significant changes. While moving to the cloud promises cost savings, these savings come only after moving to the cloud, leaving government executives wondering what impact the change will have on current systems.

Datalink might be considered a cloud systems integrator, Christensen said. "You've got a driving need to deliver services more rapidly [to] meet demand. I think the value we bring to the market is to put together solutions that include networks, servers, storage [and] virtualization."

The company then helps identify what processes and procedures need to be changed in order to maximize the return on investment -- and ideally minimize the organizational inertia that resists change.

"The more burdened you are with engrained policies that you can't change, the more challenging it will be to transform," Christensen said. "When people [suggest] cloud, in order to do it in the most effective way there are going to be changes … mostly in ways to deliver services."

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