Set parameters to make the most of Web services

If you want to know what agencies think about hosting their own Internet sites, look no further than Firstgov.gov. The General Services Administration did not hesitate to outsource the online face of the federal government to AT&T Corp.

FirstGov may be the most prominent example, but it is hardly the only one. Almost every federal agency site and many applications are run on servers operated by industry or government service providers.

'There is nothing governmental about Internet hosting,' said Alan Chvotkin, vice president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association. 'The private sector has all the technology and all agencies really need to do is set the parameters.'

Many agencies are turning to government or private-sector server farms because of the expertise and security services these organizations provide as well as the personnel shortage many agencies are facing, said Kathleen Rundle, associate CIO for the Agriculture Department's National Information Technology Center.

NITC provides a host of IT services including lifecycle management, consulting and application support and Internet hosting to most of USDA and other agencies. Rundle said agencies are increasingly putting applications on the Web and are looking to NITC to host their software.

Big task

She said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Wild Fire Coordination Group are two of NITC's biggest customers outside of the USDA.

'Servers grow proportionally and people are more aware of the need to manage and secure their servers,' Rundle said. 'It takes an awful lot to stay on top of the vulnerability patches and do database maintenance.'

Bill Toker, the director of program management in GSA's Federal Technology Service Office of Service Delivery, said agencies also have been using the FTS 2001 contract to buy more complete Web hosting services.

'We added Internet hosting about a year ago and we are finding a lot of interest,' Toker said. 'Agencies are interested because private firms offer extremely secure sites and can separate their commercial business from government business.'

Rundle said customers are asking NITC for a increased level of service, including disaster recovery and storage.

Helen Rountree, a program manager for the FTS 2001 crossover program, said agencies want vendors to manage the equipment and Web site for them instead of using a co-manage model.

Other services

Rountree said FTS has placed orders with vendors for Web hosting from the Labor Department, the Bureau of the Public Debt and the Mint.

'This is the most cost-effective way to handle this need,' Toker said. 'FTS vendors also can handle the content management of the Web applications or sites, making it an all-inclusive contract.'

Rundle said the contracts usually include more than just Web hosting services. Many agencies package these services with others such as application development and testing.

'As agencies want more services, they are trying to be more specific about the cost and task of the contract,' Rundle said. 'This type of activity-based costing helps us cost our services a lot easier.'

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