SBA sets up virtual desktops for pandemic response

Federal agencies have “come a long way” since the early days of cloud adoption, according to Bill Zielinski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Information Technology Category in the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service. Speaking during a May 7 GSA cloud adoption webinar, Zielinski  said “cloud computing is now fundamental” in the federal government.

The Small Business Administration leveraged the cloud for its work in pandemic response, said Bill Hunt, the agency’s chief enterprise architect. Cloud capabilities, he said, allowed it to virtualize desktops for incoming employees that support its loan programs.

That flexibility, Hunt said, allowed SBA to set up employees on secure virtual desktops without having to worry about physically securing actual machines. The agency has been pushing to get advanced security capabilities too, as its cloud evolves.

“We’ve been really aggressive on cloud security models. We’re leaders in using TIC 3.0” and defining network perimeters, he said. “We’re moving security closer to the data and away from the perimeters,” he said, relying more on zero trust security models and less on endpoint security.

The pandemic has burnished the decade-old cloud effort, Zielinski said, adding that agencies that have been the most nimble in shifting to telework during the pandemic had strong cloud strategies before the crisis hit.

SBA, which already had experience with disaster support and small business loans, spent 50 intense days planning and executing a plan to implement IT to support public-facing portals and services for COVID-19 response, CIO Maria Roat said during an April 30 ACT IAC teleconference.

Some federal agencies, first have individual business units adopt cloud, without an overarching business goal for the entire agency, said Syed Azeem, director of GSA’s Center of Excellence for Cloud Adoption. “They have to have some strategic vision,” he said.

 Effective cloud strategies have robust planning behind them, Zielinski said. “It concerns me that the motivation to migrate is often to meet a mandate. Sometimes checking a [compliance] box becomes overriding and hampers the overall value” of the move to cloud, he said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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