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Federal IT Leaders Drive Cloud Innovation

Tech leaders from a dozen federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Information Systems Agency, gave updates on their cloud initiatives at InformationWeek Government’s GovCloud 2012 Conference on Oct. 17 in Washington, D.C. We covered a lot of ground during the day-long event, but one theme dominated the discussion: how to implement cloud computing in innovative new ways and save money.

InformationWeek Government’s second annual GovCloud Conference was held at the Reagan Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, within walking distance of the White House and many federal agencies. Our impressive lineup of speakers included Joe Klimavicz, CIO of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Keith Trippie, executive director of enterprise system development for Homeland Security, Dave Mihelcic, CTO of the Defense Information Systems Agency, and Khawaja Shams, manager for data services with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

Federal agencies spent much of last year deploying their first cloud apps — typically website hosting and email-as-a-service — in compliance with the Office of Management and Budget’s “Cloud First” policy. Now, with the June 2012 deadline for those first apps passed, many agencies are moving ahead with cloud projects that are more strategic and complex.

DISA CTO Dave MihelcicFederal IT execs are looking outside of the Washington beltway for ideas on what more they should be doing. The Conference included a session titled “The Pentagon’s Enterprise Cloud Plan,” where DISA CTO Dave Mihelcic shared plans to begin pilot testing an IaaS capability at the agency’s Defense Enterprise Computing Center in Ogden, Utah, then roll out that capability to its other computing centers.

DISA is the Department of Defense’s designated “cloud services broker.” The cloud broker — part process, part technology — is also new in government, and DISA and the General Services Administration have both issued requests for information on how to do it. The idea is to make it fast and easy for agencies to switch among cloud services from different providers. GSA refers to it as a “next-generation cloud acquisition model” and has already talked to six agencies about how they might use it.

In fact, there’s so much cloud activity in federal government that it’s difficult to keep up with it all. RFPs, RFIs, and other cloud solicitations are being posted at a rate of about one per day on FedBizOpps.gov. In the past few weeks, DISA, the Department of Interior, the FCC, and GSA have all posted documents for cloud-service acquisitions.

The Office of Management and Budget’s goal is to move 25% of the $80 billion federal IT budget — or $20 billion worth of IT capabilities — to the cloud, though it hasn’t specified a timeframe for getting there. There are many pitfalls as Uncle Sam races in this direction. Neither cost savings nor availability can be taken for granted. Agency CIOs know the risks, but they can hardly stop now. The federal IT budget remains flat, and scratch-pad analysis says they can save 10% or more in the cloud. The business case, where it holds up, is impossible to ignore.

InformationWeek Government’s GovCloud Conference is a place where attendees can rub elbows with the cloud innovators and influencers of federal IT. The government IT leaders who joined us to share their strategies are people our editors know directly, having worked with them over the past year.

We have posted a couple of articles on GovCloud on InformationWeek.com:

Our third annual Federal Cloud Computing Survey, conducted in September, was featured in InformationWeek Government’s October issue: Cloud Business Case.  According to our survey, more than half of federal agencies are saving money with cloud computing, but security, compatibility, and skills present huge problems.

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