Interior developing cloud infrastructure services

Cloud computing will fundamentally change the shared services model, National Business Center director predicts

The Interior Department's National Business Center is ramping up a set of IT infrastructure services that it plans to offer other federal agencies, as part of its new cloud initiative. The agency plans to put the service into testing within the month, said Doug Bourgeois, director of the Interior Department's National Business Center.

"We believe cloud-computing technology is going to fundamentally change our business models for the services that we offer," Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois spoke today as part of a cloud-computing panel at the Virtualization, Cloud Computing and Green IT Summit, being held this week in Washington, by the 1105 Government Information Group, publishers of GCN.

The agency defines infrastructure-as-a-service as "computer infrastructure such as servers, desktops or network equipment, delivered over the Internet," according to a white paper the agency issued. Offering Web servers, for instance, would be an infrastructure-as-a-service.

NBC is used to being in the role of a service provider: The agency was set up to be a shared services provider of business management services, such as accounting and human-resources, for other federal agencies. The agency sees cloud computing as the next step in shared services. Cloud computing "will fundamentally change the shared-services business model, from a business application and service delivery standpoint and from a service consumption standpoint on the part of our client," Bourgeois said.

NBC already had most of the pieces in place to build a cloud offering for other agencies, Bourgeois explained. Five years ago, it took on the role of a governmentwide service provider under the Information Security Systems Line of Business. To support its own systems, the agency also developed robust business process management capabilities, virtualization and backup capabilities for get its two data centers in Denver and Herndon, Va.

The remaining steps should be fairly simple: The agency is in the process of developing a customer portal, somewhat like Apps.gov, as well as establishing account-management support, automatic provisioning, metering and billing, Bourgeois said. Overall, the basic infrastructure-as-a-service offering will be ready for testing within a month. Pricing will be based on CPU and memory usage.

Security-wise, both of NBC's data centers are fully compliant with the Federal Information Security Act. For the service, the agency is implementing security zones. These zones are completely segmented physical and virtual environments. Three zones will be implemented: A low-security zone for application development, a medium-security zone for supporting production applications and a high-security zone for applications with sensitive data.

One member of the audience asked why the agency decided to build these capabilities in-house and then offer them to other agencies, rather than contract them from a commercial-service provider.

"It boils down to economies of scale," Bourgeois responded. "We already have large scale, so we didn't implement a bunch of new infrastructure to support the cloud. We simply migrated our existing infrastructure over to a virtualized environment, which we were going to do anyway. Once we had done that, it is a very incremental investment to cloud-enable that environment."

Selling infrastructure service for others to use will boost even further the economies of scale the agency already enjoys, he argued.

NBC is not alone in adopting the cloud model for offering IT services to other agencies. Earlier this month, the Defense Information Systems Agency started offering production-ready servers for the military services.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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