Saturday, January 14, 2012

Status Report on GSA Cloud Services

The Cloud First policy, announced by U.S. Chief Information Officer in February 2011, mandated that agencies should start moving applications to the cloud by June of 2012.

The General Services Administration (GSA) was authorized early in 2011 to offer a variety of cloud contract vehicles. An Apps.gov web page was then opened offering cloud storage, virtual computer and web hosting services. Apps.gov also offered a wide range of business apps, productivity apps, social media apps and FedRAMP, which is a government-wide approved program that dictates a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and monitoring of cloud products and services.

GSA then awarded a contract for Google Apps in December 2010. By October 2011 GSA successfully moved 17,000 e-mail users to Google Apps for Government, a secure, cloud-based e-mail and collaboration platform. GSA officials have stated that using a cloud-based system will reduce cash costs of e-mail operation costs by 50 percent.

In May 2011 GSA released a request for quotation to provide government agencies with generic access to all secure, cost-efficient cloud-based email solutions. The RFQ was for the first of GSA’s Integrated Email as a Service cloud offerings, designed to increase the speed of agency adoption, deployment, and implementation of cloud technologies. This would allow agencies to purchase cloud services without the added cost of infrastructure maintenance, lowering the cost of government email and collaboration services because it offered Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has now completed moving 25,000 employees and contractors to Google Apps, under the GSA contract. NOAA issued the request for proposals in January 2011 and made the award in June to Google and its partners. NOAA employees are now working with the latest technologies like environmental monitoring satellites and high-tech weather forecasting tools. All e-mail, collaboration and document management functions have been moved to a unified Google platform in just six months, except for retaining access authentication privileges. The estimated savings are about 50%.

In September 2011 the Department of Homeland Security became the next federal agency to award a task order using the GSA contract as a Service Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) for cloud computing. Although the contract award is limited ($5 million over five years) this established an important precedent.

SUMMARY
The GSA BPAs have opened the doors for agencies to proceed with a rapid introduction of cloud computing for “commodity” applications, such as e-mail and collaboration systems. The GSA process also appears to be compliant with the recent Congressional guidance.

The success of GSA and NOAA migration to Google are a proof that conversion of legacy e-mail is not necessary. A more direct migration path into cloud computing allows for a rapid transformation of an applications.

The current efforts by DISA to move the Army’s e-mail to a standard Microsoft environment is on hold on account of Congressional directions. From a short-term standpoint, continuing e-mail consolidation using a Microsoft solution offers an advantage because of the close entanglement of Microsoft software with local adaptations. However, from the standpoint of OSD policy, which mandates greater interoperability with other competitive options, the current DISA plans do require a re-examination.

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