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6/28/2011
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Federal Cloud Services Near Launch, At Last

Government agencies should be able to get virtual computers, cloud storage, and Web hosting from authorized service providers next month, according to the GSA.

Top 20 Government Cloud Service Providers
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Slideshow: Top 20 Government Cloud Service Providers
A lengthier than expected authorization process has delayed the General Services Agency's (GSA's) plans to offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) on Apps.gov to federal agencies, but those cloud computing services should be available next month.

In October, the GSA unveiled the vendors that would provide IaaS, or servers and storage on demand, for federal agencies on Apps.gov, saying at the time the service was "coming soon."

It's now nearly nine months later and the offerings are just about ready to go live. They will allow agencies to subscribe to IaaS cloud infrastructure and on-demand computing power through services that already have the government's stamp of approval.

The GSA stipulated in the contract of each of 12 awardees that they receive a GSA authority to operate (ATO) prior to being able to process orders.

Considering the security concerns around cloud computing, this condition seems fair and easy enough on the surface. However, each of the companies had to become authorized for three main categories of services--cloud storage, virtual machines, and Web hosting, which have altogether 23 subcategories. This considerably slowed the ATO approvals process.

The first awardees should have their ATOs in July, at which point they can offer IaaS via Apps.gov, said GSA Portfolio Management Division Director Bill Lewis, who admitted getting the service providers authorized has been "a learning experience."

He also acknowledged that 23 ATOs each is a lot to issue, but said adjustments that service providers had to make also took up time during the approvals process.

"There are also some things that had to change with service provider processes and business support systems because of the nature of cloud," Lewis said. "Some of these processes and systems were new to the awardees."

The GSA is currently examining that process to see how it can create efficiencies in the future, he added.

Linda Odorisio, spokesperson for CGI Federal Inc.-- one of the companies awarded a contract to provide IaaS to federal customers--confirmed that currently "there is a lot of work going on around security and certification of vendors and offerings." Once that's complete, CGI looks forward to providing the IaaS cloud service to federal agencies, she said.

The GSA's Lewis said it's "premature to ask" how the GSA can change the process in the future to get services available more quickly, but the agency is working figure it out. "Expect a 'lessons learned' after we complete the ATOs," he said.

In addition to CGI Federal, the other companies that are currently achieving ATOs are: Apptis Inc. partnered with Amazon Web Services; AT&T; Autonomic Resources partnered with Carpathia Hosting Inc., Enomaly and Dell; Carahsoft partnered with Carpathia Hosting Inc.; Computer Literacy World partnered with XO Communications, Electrosoft and Secure Network Systems; Computer Technologies Consultants partnered with SoftLayer, Inc.; Eyak Tech LLC partnered with Horizon Data Center Solutions; General Dynamics Information Technology partnered with Carpathia Hosting Inc.; Insight Public Sector partnered with Microsoft; Savvis Federal Systems; and Verizon Federal Inc.

Another factor that's delayed making the services available on Apps.gov is a current lack of specifics on the site about the services each awardee will provide, an issue that is being remedied, Lewis said.

"Over the next two weeks, some enhancements to Apps.gov are going into production, which will make it easier for agencies to make vendor selections," he said.

The GSA also aims to reduce transaction time and the complexity of purchasing cloud solutions in the future, an endeavor that may involve the development of online tools for agencies that allow for on-demand self-service or the ability to increase or decrease the size of their purchase, Lewis said.

The GSA's Office of Portfolio Management is collaborating with the CIO of the agency's Federal Acquisition Service to create these tools, he added.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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