USDA ramps up cloud service strategy

USDA ramps up cloud service strategy

As director of the Department of Agriculture’s relatively new cloud strategy and policy office, Tony Cossa is working to build out department’s cloud services and drive a cultural change inside and across government agencies.

The USDA’s cloud computing strategy leverages the agency's multiple enterprise data centers to provide both USDA components and other government agencies with an agile, secure and cost-effective service environment that can quickly respond to their changing needs. It aims to build agencies’ trust in the cloud and in the USDA by prioritizing the needs of agency partners, USDA CIO Jonathan Alboum told attendees at the Jan. 13 ATARC Federal Cloud Computing Summit in Washington, D.C.

Alboum and Cossa agreed that ensuring trust in the cloud, easing procurement and making services customer-centric are leading challenges. “How we approach that strategy is critical,” Cossa said. “Not everybody trusts cloud…so how do we train, educate, build a culture of innovation around utilizing this technology?”

The USDA’s approach to “guiding agencies through the cloud” focuses on federal security compliance and providing the technology and expertise to host any data allowable on the cloud. The USDA offers its services with any organization in government, including agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

As agencies look to consolidate data centers, they can use the USDA cloud services and facilities, which are compliant with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act, certified by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program and equipped with the tools and technology needed to build applications.

“We want to make it more efficient [for agencies] to build networks out,” Cossa said, by creating a secure environment and colocation services. As the USDA already manages cloud applications from Salesforce, Microsoft and Amazon for itself, it wants to share that expertise with other agencies, providing structure and guidelines to ensure sound cloud purchasing and use strategies.

According to Cossa, a cloud working group at the USDA has a test development environment it uses to help it better understand cloud capabilities and benefits. The team is currently in the process of quantifying those benefits.

USDA has been offering platform-as-a-service solutions, and it recently introduced an infrastructure-as-a service option. “We have several services,” Cossa explained, “But it’s all new. It’s not mature, it’s growing, and we constantly look at opportunities where we can leverage the buying power across USDA.”

However, Cossa said USDA has no intent to compete with commercial cloud service providers. “They’re in the business to sell cloud services, and that’s their job, that’s what they do. We have a lot more responsibilities than just cloud,” he said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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