GSA to decide if cloud broker services work

Mark Day, director, GSA's Office of Strategic Programs in the Federal Acquisition Service

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The General Services Administration will decide this summer whether a brokerage model will work for cloud computing.

The Homeland Security Department and one other large agency have signed up for the short-term pilot.

Mark Day, GSA’s director of the Office of Strategic Programs in the Federal Acquisition Service, wouldn’t say who the second agency is because the memorandum of agreement has not yet been finalized.

He said it is a large, complex agency with a number of bureaus and a good test case for cloud brokerage services.

“Really the pilot is a proof of concept operation,” Day said. “We want to understand how well the cloud brokerage concept would work? Does it meet certain customer needs that we’ve laid out? Does it appear to be economical in its operation? Can we predict pricing and quality the way we need to, to make it a real service that can be a value to the customer?”

Day said GSA is in the final stages of preparing a small acquisition that would be just for the proof of concept.

GSA hopes to get the acquisition awarded this summer and the proof of concept done this year.

“We are looking at the platform that we would use to run the service in the proof of concept stage,” he said. “It is not a large one. It will not be an IDIQ for future use by other agencies so it will not be a large acquisition. For those who thought I just said a $100 million opportunity, I did not.”

What Day did say, however, is the proof of concept will help determine the direction GSA goes in the future in offering cloud brokerage services.

GSA has been working on this concept for about a year. It put out a request for information last summer.

Additionally, the Defense Information Systems Agency also is exploring the cloud broker concept for the Defense Department.

DoD chief information officer Teri Takai issued a cloud strategy and mandated other military services and agencies buy cloud services only from DISA unless they receive a waiver from her office.

GSA has no such mandate from the Office of Management and Budget, but sees an opportunity to give agencies something they already are asking for.

Day said agencies are using the Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract to purchase cloud integration services five times more often than buying through the infrastructure-as-a-service or email-as-a-service contracts.

“Many agencies are in a position where they need to integrate different cloud services,” he said. “They have the cloud service agreement, but need to integrate that cloud service with other cloud services or legacy services, or it’s part of a shared service they would like to sell to others. They don’t want to have to do a one-by-one integration with another agency customer. They want to be able to say, ‘here’s my shared service, connect to it this way.’ It’s much more seamless and it’s much easier for them administratively as a seller or as a consumer.”

Day said while GSA is starting the proof of concept with two agencies, there are about 20 others who are interested in the concept, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, DHS and NASA.

So if there is that much interest in cloud broker services, why not just add the functionality to the Alliant contract.

One of the things about Alliant is GSA designed it to meet the changing needs of the federal technology environment.

Day said there are some technical challenges from a regulatory standpoint as to why Alliant can’t include cloud broker services.

“Alliant is a GWAC and GWACs can’t offer IDIQ-type task orders. Cloud broker by its nature has to have the ability to be elastic in its sizing,” he said. “If you want to add multiple providers, higher capacity or more services, you can’t do that without an IDIQ type contract. So let’s say the cloud broker begins by doing all your single sign-on integration, not only with the cloud providers but with your legacy system so you have a true single sign-on for your employees. Then, later you say it would be good if they do your service level monitoring. And later you say you’d like for them to monitor for performance in real time. So there are many different kinds of services they might perform and as we learn and grow, we will find out there are more and more services that can be done this way and reduce complexity.”

Day said the biggest area of need for cloud broker services likely is with software-as-a-service because there potentially are so many different touch points that need integration into the cloud.

“The efficiency to have to re-integrate each one of those, each time independently becomes very non-economical and then you start ending up with bundles and start ending up with pricing with multiple layers, cloud broker may help us break that model,” he said.

Related to that cloud broker effort is changing the way agencies buy software, especially software-as-a-service.

Day said GSA is researching all the different ways agencies are buying cloud services.

He said it runs the gamut from everything from fixed price to time and materials.

“I don’t believe there is any one approach that 80 percent of the contracting officers would agree to today,” he said. “Our goal is to figure out what are the particular barriers to getting to that, and find what is the most economical way to buy cloud for the government and provides fair opportunity for the industry. It also must allow the government to be flexible and agile, and buy with confidence.”

Day said the research will help determine the next acquisition steps for cloud broker services.

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