Move to the cloud could set CIOs free

Cloud computing could liberate agency chief information officers from mundane IT operations

The move to cloud computing will give agency chief information officers the chance to perform the job they were tasked to do 14 years ago with the passage of the Clinger- Cohen Act, Pat Stingley, chief technology officer with the Bureau of Land Management, told attendees at a recent seminar on virtualization and the data center.

There is concern among the information technology community that the move to outsource IT operations to cloud computing environments means CIOs won’t have anything to do anymore, Stingley said.

“You’re a chief information officer. It doesn’t say anything about [you being a] router administrator or systems administrator,” Stingley said. You’ve been tasked with the idea of managing information.” And the business of government is information, Stingley noted.

Stingley spoke on July 22 at a seminar entitled “Virtually There: The Journey to the Virtualized Data Center” held in Washington, D.C. The seminar was sponsored by Federal Computer Week and several industry partners including Cisco, EMC, Intel and VMware.

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The government defines cloud computing as an on-demand model for network access, allowing users to tap into a shared pool of configurable computing resources, such as applications, networks, servers, storage and services, that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.

What types of tasks can CIOs focus on if they turn IT operations over to agency cloud service providers such as the Department of Interior’s National Business Center?

“Data management, you can begin with that,” Stingley said. “I don’t know anybody whose bureau or department has a reasonable data management process.” For the most part, agencies have a “landfill” method of data management, Stingley said. They collect all kinds of data and stick that information in e-mails or shared drives and no one can find it. They collect more data until they have layers of information.

“If you’re not doing new operating systems or focusing on what hardware to buy, you can turn your attention to data management,” Stingley said.

Business process management is another area. Agencies aren’t properly documenting their business processes, either. “I’ve been in a lot of places in the government. I have never really seen them. If they had them, they weren’t generally accurate,” he said.

Security management is yet another area CIOs can focus on. The Clinger-Cohen Act made the CIO responsible for the security of information within agencies.

“My goal in the next five years is to not have [certain IT] technology in my bureau. I would like for us to not have admin privileges in the bureau,” he said.

Some may question this approach. However, Stingley said, “I’ve been a systems administrator. I’ve been a programmer. I’ve made databases and built a lot of things. I can tell you in no case did I need admin privileges to do that,” Stingley noted. “In most cases, people are given admin privileges because it is convenient.”

However, if agencies take the hardware and operating systems and put it in a cloud environment and let those folks handle admin privileges, programmers and database administrators can still perform their tasks.

“We should be trying to reduce the risks and if I don’t have admin privileges, my CIO can sleep well at night – seriously,” Stingley said.

Stingley touched on some of the cost-saving issues related to cloud computing.

It costs the Bureau of Land Management $28,000 a year to run each server no matter where the servers are located. So data center consolidation is going to have a nominal effect. However, if the bureau could go to Interior’s National Business Center, which provides cloud-based services to agencies, a server could be rented for $4,000 a year.

“I’m not making a case for NBC,” he said. However, $4,000 a year versus $28,000 a year per server makes a compelling economic case for a move to a government cloud such as NBC, he noted.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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