After consolidation, ATF wants to sell cloud services

IT managers with The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have extra data center space and want to get into the business of offering cloud-based or shared services to other federal agencies.

But here’s the problem: The IT and data center staff currently do not have the experience, processes or training to provide the services themselves, said Noah Nason, ATF’s chief technology officer.

"What are we doing about that?” Nason asked attendees at a federal data center summit in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13.

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One idea ATF is considering is to award contracts to vendors that have the experience to manage cloud and shared services. This would help build trust among agencies looking for a shared services provider, Nason said during a government panel discussion at the summit, which was sponsored by Juniper Networks and MeriTalk.

ATF has been working on virtualization and consolidation of data center assets for a long time. The bureau is well into its third infrastructure and has consolidated into two data centers. ATF has a government-owned Tier 2 data center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and another one owned by Hewlett Packard in Cherokee, Okla. ATF has about 500 servers in those facilities, about 200 of them virtualized, Nason said.

“Because we virtualized all these servers, we have a fair amount of space. About 40 percent of floor space is free right now,” Nason said.

The Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point IT reform plan stipulates that agencies should adopt light technologies and shared services. To that end, Nason began thinking about what ATF could do with its extra space.

ATF could lease the floor space out. “I am sure that the real estate guys would be happy to do that; it would lower their costs. But the IT guys wouldn’t benefit from that because it would be money we wouldn’t see,” Nason said.

IT officials see an opportunity to provider higher levels of service in providing hardware and operating systems, software-as-a-service or cloud-based services in which ATF share servers with other agencies, he said.

Bringing in experienced vendors to lease space would make ATF a more viable option for some agencies, he said.

More importantly, it could help the IT department lower its prices for services, and savings from that setup could go back into the IT budget.

“If we have 100 servers in the data center and we sell our space to another 50, that could get us to a different level of consolidation and to a lower price point," Nason said.

“If we get a lower price point that goes into my budget,” he said.

If ATF rents out space, the IT organization will have to get more training in security because it has to do better information and network surveillance not only for themselves but also for customers, Nason said.

Nason doesn’t view ATF as competing with the Defense Information Systems Agency, which offers cloud-based services to DOD users, or commercial vendors. “We just don’t have the scale,” he said.

Most likely, small law enforcement agencies or those who need to secure personal identification information might seek out ATF’s services. “We might not be priced competitively but will be culture-, trust- and ease-of-use-competitive,” Nason said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 16, 2011

Enough already with agencies getting into businesses not in their mission statements. Department of Ag started this a couple decades ago, and it has snowballed since then with agencies competing with GSA on GWAC and such. If they have too much raised-floor space, TURN IT BACK to GSA or the commercial landlord. The longer I work for the government, the more I think all telecom, telephony, and IT should be taken away from functional agencies, and common-serviced out of a housekeeping agency. Wait- isn't that what they set up GSA for, 60-some years ago?

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