Federal Government Considering Cloud Computing

The GSA's request about "infrastructure as a service" includes 45 questions that may already eliminate some vendors.
The GSA wasn't available for immediate comment on the reasons behind its RFI, but federal CIO Vivek Kundra is a strong proponent of cloud computing in government, having given all city employees access to Google Apps while he was CIO of Washington, D.C. He's repeatedly expressed his desire to move the federal government toward cloud computing environments in public statements during his brief tenure in the Office of Management and Budget, saying that cloud computing could help cut IT spending over the long term and make IT resources more manageable.

Just this week, the Obama administration released supplemental budget documents for the 2010 budget that laid out plans for cloud computing, including the funding of a number of pilot projects to evaluate and help the government move toward cloud computing where possible.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has hired a federal cloud CTO and begun drafting a formal government definition for cloud computing (including the definition of infrastructure as a service), which will be made available in the upcoming NIST Special Publication on Cloud Computing and Security.

Though vendors will admit they still get questions like how they can prove their security meets FISMA requirements, they see a big opportunity in cloud computing in government.

"As much as they're concerned about security and uptime, agencies are just as much or more concerned about [how to] support the goals of openness and transparency and engagement and reduce costs," David Mihalchick, manager of Google's federal business development team, said in an interview, adding that the White House's budget addendum could be a watershed event for the federal cloud computing market.

A number of agencies already are jumping into cloud computing, including infrastructure as a service., for example, is now hosted on Terremark's The Enterprise Cloud infrastructure-as a-service platform. Other cloud computing environments also are getting notice within the government, as the Defense Information Systems Agency is building its own private cloud, the Customs and Border Protection uses RightNow's software-as-a-service CRM offering to do case management of illegal immigrants, and the White House's recent Open for Questions application used Google Moderator, which runs on Google App Engine.

InformationWeek will be highlighting innovative government IT organizations in an upcoming issue. Nominate your agency by submitting an essay on your most innovative IT initiative completed in the last year. Find out more, and nominate your organization -- deadline extended to May 15.

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