Feds Need Cloud Procurement Standards

Federal agencies should develop a common way to evaluate services and prices offered by cloud service providers, says TechAmerica Foundation.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

June 5, 2014

4 Min Read

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8 Data Centers For Cloud's Toughest Jobs

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Federal agencies looking to buy cloud services, just like the private sector, need to develop a common method for evaluating cloud providers, the services they offer, and the prices they charge. That's the advice from TechAmerica Foundation, a nonprofit formed to advise government on cloud computing in its newly updated guide on how government agencies can adopt the cloud.

TechAmerica Foundation's cloud computing initiative was formed three years ago to convey best practices in adopting the cloud to the federal and state governments. The new guide makes such common sense recommendations as mapping agency priorities, then finding a business case that fits them. The business case must define requirements, set performance objectives, and estimate costs, it said.

Government implementers of cloud must also understand their agency's security requirements and match them to an available cloud service. "Develop a procurement/acquisition strategy appropriate for purchasing cloud computing," it advised, and take advantage of other government-agency cloud initiatives.

It also advised government cloud buyers to utilize "a common service measurement framework to evaluate providers." But government agencies aren't the only ones needing assistance with that piece of advice. Cloud users in the private sector have struggled to find that common unit of service measurement and do the same.

"Cloud computing remains a challenge with the federal government," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cloud Computing Caucus, at a recent event marking the release of the guide.

[Want to learn more about federal plan to consolidate data centers? See Feds Accelerate Data Center Consolidation.]

Launched in 1981, the Foundation is a 501c(3) non‐profit, nonpartisan branch of TechAmerica, a loose consortium of technology companies that lobbies the government on technology policies. The foundation does research on US competitiveness, education, and technology policy. The TechAmerica group grew out of the work of the West Coast Electronics Association, founded by companies like HP and 17 of its suppliers. It helped members of a young technology industry pursue government contracts during World War II.

Copies of the foundation's guide, "Cloud Buyer's Guide for Government," are available at foundation's website. It was launched in a ceremony at the Rayburn Building on May 29. Mike Hettinger, senior VP of TechAmerica's public sector group, said at the time, "As the federal government adopts and provides new tools and technology for its workforce, they can take advantage of the tech industry's experience gleaned from the transition in the private sector," according to the online news service FedScoop.com.

The guide is also reinforcement for the "cloud first" policy issued in 2010 by the Office of Management and Budget. It said, whenever possible, federal agencies should adopt cloud computing rather than build more data centers. The first federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, reinforced the OMB in calling for federal data center consolidation. Sometime in 2015 the federal government is expected to have nearly 1,000 fewer data centers than in 2011. So far, 640 have been consolidated, TechAmerica's guide stated.

The 30-page guide also cited progress by some agencies. Several have moved their email into the cloud, including the Department of Labor, the General Services Administration, the Department of Justice, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Federal agencies that have moved other computing tasks into the cloud since the 2010 policy statement include: the Department of Health and Human Services, grants management; the Department of the Treasury, data center services; the Department of Defense, application development and testing; the US Agency for International Development, virtual meeting services; and the Department of Energy, website hosting.

The guide said federal agencies might have made further progress by this point. But "the path to effectively and efficiently utilizing the cloud is not an easy one. Individual agencies have different requirements and demands of their cloud solutions, and as such it can sometimes be difficult to correctly procure cloud services." The TechAmerica Foundation is trying to bring its members' own experiences to bear as agencies "navigate the sometimes complicated process of acquiring cloud solutions."

The pace of procurement may speed up since the CIA went through a lengthy process last year to obtain its own cloud in a bidding process. IBM sued the agency when it awarded a $600 million contract to Amazon Web Services. But the US Court of Federal Claims upheld the award of the bid to Amazon in late November, and chastised IBM for maneuvering in the bidding process. The decision may put other federal agencies on surer footing as they go out to bid for their own cloud computing services.

NIST's cyber-security framework gives critical-infrastructure operators a new tool to assess readiness. But will operators put this voluntary framework to work? Read the Protecting Critical Infrastructure issue of InformationWeek Government today.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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