Government’s move to cloud an ongoing series of lessons learned

Important lessons are being learned as the government takes tentative steps toward the cloud computing environment.

Herding cats, a hot item or just hype?

When it comes to the government’s ongoing effort to get its arms around — and data into — the cloud, it can be all three.

While most have assumed the government would not go the direction of a lone cloud broker, General Services Administration Infrastructure Service-Line-Manager Marcelo Olascoaga, and John Hale, the cloud portfolio manager at the Defense Information Systems Agency, revealed part of the thought process behind that decision during a Sept. 14 National Institute of Standards and Technology cloud forum.

“We had a request for information out, we received over 70-something responses about the cloud broker,” Olascoaga said. “It was a hot item. I would call it more hype, but that’s just my personal opinion. It was a hot item, there was a lot of talk about a broker. We found out through our research and looking at all of these platforms, we just couldn’t do a broker in government.”

One of the main reasons why, Olascoaga said during his panel, is that it would in essence set up a monopoly, in which one broker would be the prime contractor for the entire government, and every agency would be coming to GSA to obtain, for example, infrastructure as a service.

“Then we would set up that prime contractor as the only contractor for maybe 10 years that can provide infrastructure to the whole government,” Olascoaga said. “That would be setting up a monopoly; after that 10-year period is up, they know the ins and out of everything we’re doing, so the chances are their bid is going to be one of the strongest bids that we receive for that new contract being put in place at the 11th year.”

GSA also looked at several broker platforms, Olascoaga said, but having to refresh that platform every time there was a new version, “because now we would have customized software,” just wouldn’t work out.

“So at the end, we decided this can’t be done, we can’t do it,” Olascoaga said. “If an agency needs to obtain a broker, which is really just a prime contractor to help them obtain all of their cloud services and maintain cloud services for them, then they should just have an acquisition, go through that, evaluate, and then award to a prime contractor. You can call them a broker, because at the end of the day that’s all they are is a prime contractor, nothing has really changed from our traditional way of operating, to handle everything you need.”

From the Defense Department’s side of things, Hale said it wasn’t so much a monopoly as herding cats when his agency was named the department’s cloud broker.

While the vision had been for everybody in the Defense Department to come to DISA for acquiring bulk cloud services, it rapidly spun out of control, Hale said.

“Every service, agency and COCOM out there has a different set of requirements for different things,” Hale said. “It quickly turned into finding the least common denominator we could go out with, and what you come up with is a solution that actually nobody wants.”

In 2014, the DoD CIO issued new guidance that allows each service to go out and acquire its services directly from providers.

Cloud guidance on its way

The government’s move to the cloud is a slow but steady march. Among some of the steps already taken is DISA’s request for proposals for MilCloud 2.0, and DoD’s data center consolidation directive.

Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott told the audience that while the short-term emphasis was on consolidation, the hope was to put “a heavy sort of incentive or reward for moving to the cloud as well.”

“I think in three years you’ll see more of that as opposed to the one-year kind of time frame,” Scott said.

The consolidation is part of the overarching Federal Data Center Optimization Initiative.

The DCOI is based on a four-part strategy, including freezing the current footprint and future data center expansions, closing existing data centers, moving to the cloud and promoting shared services.

Scott said in answer to a question about maintaining an on-demand, elastic cloud service during the procurement process, that a “whole set of guidance is coming out on the cloud,” with the goal of getting more standardized clauses and ways to help change the old “mental model” of purchasing.

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