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The move marks a milestone for the Obama administration's cloud computing initiative. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in a conference call with reporters it is the first government-wide system to move to a cloud computing infrastructure. It's also the first federal government production system to run on Amazon EC2, Kundra said.
Cloud computing has been one of Kundra's top priorities since becoming federal CIO in March 2009. In next year's IT budget requests, for example, federal agencies will have to discuss whether they've considered cloud computing as an alternative to investing in on-premises IT systems.
The recovery board expects to save about $750,000 over the next two years -- $334,000 this year and $420,000 in 2011 -- by running Recovery.gov on EC2. This represents about 10% of the total $7.5 million the board has spent overall on the site so far, including development costs. "Significantly" more savings are expected over the long term, according to the recovery board.
Those savings will allow the recovery board to place more emphasis on uncovering and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse, recovery board chairman Earl Devaney said on the conference call. In addition, they will free up resources to allow Recovery.gov's prime contractor, Smartronix, to focus on features and functionality instead of having to worry about keeping servers up and running.
"As the world’s largest consumer of information technology and as stewards of taxpayer dollars, the federal government has a duty to be a leader in pioneering the use of new technologies that are more efficient and economical," Kundra said in a blog post aimed squarely at federal agencies. "By using cloud services, the federal government will gain access to powerful technology resources faster and at lower costs. This frees us to focus on mission-critical tasks instead of purchasing, configuring, and maintaining redundant infrastructure."
Devaney said that the decision to go with Amazon EC2 to host the site was one made Smartronix, but that the decision to move to the cloud for Web hosting was made by the recovery board. "We had been having conversations with Smartronix about this for a while," he said.
Security has been and remains one of the primary concerns holding federal agencies back from considering cloud computing. Before moving Recovery.gov to Amazon EC2, the recovery board sought and received assurances from Amazon that none of the Recovery.gov data would be stored in foreign countries, and went through the certification and accreditation required to be compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act, which regulates federal cybersecurity.
In fact, the recovery board's press release says that by running the site on EC2, Recovery.gov's security has actually improved by adding "greater protection against network attacks and real-time detection of system tampering."
While NASA and other agencies have been testing EC2, Kundra said that Recovery.gov is the first production system running on Amazon Web Services.
“Building on AWS enables Recovery.gov to reap the benefits of the cloud -- including the ability to add or shed resources as needed, paying only for resources used and freeing up scarce engineering resources from running technology infrastructure -- without sacrificing operational performance, reliability, or security,” Adam Selipsky, VP of Amazon Web Services, said in a statement.
Other agencies have begun moving some IT systems to the cloud as well. For example, in April, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to use Salesforce.com for CRM in support of the implementation of electronic health records systems. The Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and General Services Administration are all considering moving to cloud-based e-mail.
However, the cloud transition remains in early stages. "This shift is not going to happen overnight, but this move represents one of the first bricks in the foundation," Kundra said.