Cloud propels DHS IG toward more advanced IT services

For the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General, cloud computing offers so much more than just the potential to save money.

The DHS IG sees real benefits from the cloud around cybersecurity, big data and much more.

Mike Horton, the chief information officer of the DHS IG’s office, said his top priority is transitioning its current local data center to a federal cloud.

At the same time, Horton said three other priorities are related to the data center effort—a laptop refresh, migrating their public website to a public cloud that is more agile and extending the capabilities of the office’s email-as-a-service to include more collaboration tools.

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While many of these efforts are happening in parallel, the data center migration is the centerpiece to the OIG’s IT modernization effort.

“The focus is to get some leverage not just what DHS has already done and built and implemented, but also benefit from the other DHS components that have gone there and lessons learned,” Horton said. “There are some economies of scale for us to be able to take advantage of. We are relatively small compared to those other components, and it’s a generally easily lift, but to us it’s everything.”

Horton said he expects that many of the applications the OIG uses will be upgraded during the data center shift.

“For us, I honestly don’t believe this is focused on cost savings. This is focused on stability and providing service to our customers nationwide,” he said. “We are at the mercy of our environmental situation here. We want to change that. The throughput will be better. We will see better performance to our remote sites and our field sites, and that is really the focus.”

Horton said new data center setup will let data travel faster and more efficiently across the network, and OIG will get better service from its vendors.

While the data center move is focused on a federal cloud, Horton said the OIG actually is using all three types of clouds — public, private and hybrid.

“We already have some applications in the private cloud. We have an application in the FedRAMP cloud, which I think is a hybrid situation, and we do have email-as-a-service coming out of the DHS data center. We’ve seen all three. We’ve seen service levels with all three. We’ve seen costs for all three,” he said. “In the end, what drove us to the DHS data center was a partnership with DHS. Traditionally as an OIG, we’ve been more isolated than independent, but our focus now is to find economies of scale where we can, and we know as we go forward we want to benefit from some of the things DHS headquarters has done on the technology side and we have good reason to partner with them.”

Horton said for the website upgrade, the OIG is moving to a public cloud.

He said the goal is to keep the site dynamic and valuable to the public.

“We have held that public website here locally. We moved it out to a private cloud and now we are moving it to the public cloud,” he said. “There are a couple of different variables there. Their ability to migrate our data and present that data in a meaningful way. We don’t get a lot of traffic on old reports, for instance, so we are front end loading our website to make sure those newest and most recent and applicable reports are available en masse as quickly as possible.”

Horton said a request for proposals is on the street and an award will be made later this year.

A third cloud-related effort is to bring more capabilities to the organization’s email-as-a-service offering.

Horton said the initial move to email in the cloud was difficult for the OIG, but now 18 months later, employees are more comfortable with the service.

He said collaboration tool called LINK, which works as a chat and desktop sharing platform, and SharePoint.

“We’ve already run LINK here locally so we know people use it and it’s an application people depend on. Our goal is to get both of those services out of here and to the data center by the end of the fiscal year,” Horton said. “It shifts the balance not just from a staffing viewpoint, but also from a philosophy viewpoint. Our jobs, traditionally here, have been heavy on the engineering and heavy on the service side, and it’s turning into and evolving into a real customer focused staff where we don’t do the engineering on the back end for email or even the first line service on SharePoint anymore, but what we do is help customers in getting the most out of those products. It’s changed the way we do business, but not change the business we do.”

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