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3/24/2010
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GSA To Update Cloud Computing Web Site

Apps.gov will get a user interface and content redesign as well as a revamped request for quotations interface and social media hosting capability.

The federal government's cloud computing Website, Apps.gov, hasn't met all the General Services Administration's initial expectations, a GSA official said Tuesday at FOSE, the annual government IT trade show and conference.

That means a number of changes are on the way for the site, including a revamped request for quotations for infrastructure-as-a-service (due out "very soon"), a new informational section of the site, a GSA-based social media hosting capability, and a redesign of some of Apps.gov's user interface and content.

"From our research, right now, people aren't buying much, but are using it as a source of government information," said Katie Lewin, the GSA's new cloud computing program manager, underscoring the fact that cloud computing is clearly still a new idea for government agencies. "Ultimately, our goal is to make this a viable procurement vehicle as well as a source of information and social media."

A number of changes are on the way. For instance, pieces of the site's user interface will get an overhaul. Right now, Lewin said, the display "isn't exactly conducive to immediate buying." For example, the taxonomy isn't currently set up to make products and services on the site intuitive to navigate, but that will change, she said.

GSA recently canceled its first cloud computing request for quotations, which aimed to add infrastructure-as-a-service vendors (specifically, Web hosting, storage, and virtual machines) to Apps.gov. However, said Mike Anastasio, director for the strategic solutions contract division at GSA, a new RFQ is due out "extremely shortly" pending completion of some pre-solicitation documentation.

Late Monday, GSA posted a Special Notice about the upcoming RFQ, informing cloud computing vendors that they'll need to be on the federal supply schedule in order to be considered for the RFQ and that they'll have to ensure that their products meet Federal Information Security Management Act "moderate" security level. The GSA has also assigned officials to help vendors modify their schedule listing to meet Apps.gov requirements.

Anastasio said that the GSA was disappointed with the cancellation of the first RFQ, but called it the "correct decision." He said that the GSA expects more interest this time around, and better communication with vendors.

In addition to more typical SaaS and cloud computing applications, Apps.gov hosts social media. Currently, Apps.gov makes 33 social media applications available to federal agencies, including social bookmarking apps, RSS feeds, social networks, media hosting and wikis.

As it now stands, the social media portion of the site simply provides agencies with consolidated terms of service for the different social media sites, and allows agencies to sign up for external services like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. As soon as this spring, , however, according to Gwynne Kostin, director of new media for GSA's citizen engagement office, the GSA will begin experimenting as a service provider that will be able to host and provision blogging and other social media services for federal agencies.

Another coming feature is an information portal, which will post documents like the original, now-scrapped RFQ, and papers created by the government's cloud computing working groups (such as documents looking at standard processes for security certification).

Finally, Lewin said, GSA is working to improve the way it communicates with agencies about Apps.gov.

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