Agencies need new model for 'just-in-time IT,' federal CIOs say

If agencies want to take advantage of a potential catalog of on-demand, on-time computing services, they’re going to need a new way of doing things, federal CIOs recently told conference attendees in Washington, D.C.

A new business model — which would require collaboration between industry and government — would have to give agency IT departments the flexibility to really share services, the CIOs said.

“We have a service that could be reused tomorrow by other federal agencies, if we didn’t have breaks in the supply chain,” said Keith Trippie, executive director of enterprise system development for the Homeland Security Department, referring to DHS’ identity proofing as a service. Identity proofing in the cloud is used by financial service institutions but is not used a lot by federal agencies, Trippie added.

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“We have significant acquisition challenges ahead of us,” in order for agencies to effectively use cloud services and shared services, he said Feb. 16 during a panel in which federal CIOs discussed challenges of cloud computing at the CloudGov conference. CloudGov was held by the Software & Information Industry Association and Deltek in Washington.

Why can’t DHS use some of what the Veterans Affairs Department is doing with cloud and IT services and vice versa?, Trippie asked during the panel discussion that also included representatives from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Postal Service and the VA.

For its part, the VA sees cloud computing as a way to extend capabilities, but it doesn’t want to be in the data-center business.

VA has 330,000 employees and lots of different systems, and it is expecting a large influx of new customers, with veterans returning from Iraq and the drawdown of the military, said Lorraine Landfried, deputy CIO of product development in VA’s Office of Information and Technology.

“We see cloud as a way of extending capabilities,” she said. However, with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiatives’ efforts to shutter facilities, “we see ourselves getting out of the data-center business by 2018,” Landfried said.

VA officials must figure out how to do that and who will host the department’s systems. Currently, Terremark, a Verizon company, is VA’s largest hosting provider.

Being in the data-center business is not the best way for most agency IT departments to add value to their agencies, Trippie said. “If we are in the data-center business, then let’s put on hard hats and do that work.”

However, agency IT departments can add better value by providing computing capability that expands the different business services that help agencies execute their missions.

DHS is moving aggressively to the private and public clouds, Trippie said, adding that “cloud” is an overused word. He said he prefers to use the phrase“we’re buying commodity IT.”

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.

In the public cloud, DHS is partnering with the General Services Administration to use GSA’s Blanket Purchase Agreement infrastructure as a service contract vehicle. “We will be sweeping the decks of all of the public-facing websites in the department and putting that out in the cloud,” Trippie said.

In the private cloud, DHS agencies have access to collaboration solutions; an authentication service; messaging as a service, which is rolling out now; and development, testing and infrastructure as a service.

NASA officials think they will need a series of different types of clouds to meet the needs of NASA’s scientists and engineers as well as the general public, said Adrian Gardner, CIO and director of the Information, Technology and Communications Directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

NASA initially launched a private cloud called Nebula to give its scientists and engineers on-demand computing resources. But does it have to be an either/or proposition between using a public or private cloud? Gardner asked. “Why do I have to choose?”

Users should have the opportunity to receive the service through a cloud broker or service broker, he said. “I really want to get to the point of looking at compute across the spectrum, from the desktop to the supercomputer,” Gardner said, adding that the cloud would play in that spectrum.

Gardner said he doesn’t see that there should be a competition between supercomputing and the cloud or a virtualized data center and a hardened data center all the way down to the virtualized desktop infrastructure. 

“I think that there are opportunities where the cloud will be a part of that tool basket” that can be used by engineers, scientists and the general public, Gardner said.

A private cloud is an infrastructure operated solely for an organization. It may be managed by the organization or a third party and may exist on-site or off. A public cloud is an infrastructure made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services.

Whether agencies are deploying private, public, community or hybrid clouds, it is clear a new world is coming.

“You’re going to go from the old world to the new world,” Trippie said. “I’m a big proponent of the new world, and I do not like the old world.”

“I just spent a 25-minute cab ride out in the rain during the middle of rush hour; that is the old way of doing IT,” Trippie said. “The new way of doing IT is what I did here: I just walked in just in time to speak. We want ‘just-in-time IT.’ ”

Industry will have to be a key partner to help the government provide a path to get to the new world of IT where there is the flexibility to develop new capabilities that can then be quickly tested and put into production.

There is a huge opportunity for small businesses to provide the methodology to make the transition to the next-generation IT environment, Trippie told industry representatives in the audience. Agency managers and industry have to collaborate on finding ways to marshal the power of the federal government and change the business model.

For instance, he said, “I want [to spend] $20 millions on a contract tomorrow and move my organization legitimately through the [contract] vehicle. Once that happens, I have a full catalog of services” like NASA’s Gardner is calling for.

“Why can’t we get that? Why can’t we move [to] that model?” Trippie asked.

Federal managers are starting to have conversations on how to shift the business paradigm to this new world, he said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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