Cloud commission offers buying guide for federal agencies

July 31, 2011

A commission of cloud computing industry leaders is recommending that federal officials provide clearer standards and better policies and processes geared to Internet-based applications and services.

The TechAmerica Foundation, a nonprofit group affiliated with industry association TechAmerica, put together the commission, which was headed by Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive of the Web-based sales management company Salesforce.com, and Michael D. Capellas, chief executive of VCE, a coalition formed by Cisco and EMC with investments from VMware and Intel.

Last year, the Office of Management and Budget put in place a “cloud-first” policy, requiring federal agencies to give priority to such services. Government officials have said cloud computing will save money and improve efficiency because much of the infrastructure can be shared.

The commission, which brought together 71 representatives from industry and academia including 45 from the public sector, issued a lengthy report, recommending new standards and laws governing the security of data and the process for establishing Web-based programs. It also called for more collaboration and flexibility in procurement models.

The commission also produced a buying guide meant to walk federal agencies through the procurement process. The 16-page guide lays out “best practices” for six different government roles, from chief financial officers to acquisition managers.

Gregg Mossburg, a senior vice president at Fairfax-based CGI and a member of the commission, said the group’s kickoff meeting convened government leaders including U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Gary Locke, the commerce secretary.

There, he said, Kundra suggested the idea of a buying guide.

“That really laid the foundation,” Mossburg said of the meeting, after which commissioners then met with other government officials around the country.

He noted that the commissioners themselves employed the cloud to collaborate throughout the process.

In the case of the guide, the commission modeled it on the kind of tips one might provide someone buying a car, Mossburg said.

“We wanted it to be something that was immediately useful, not something that was theoretical or ivory tower,” he said.

Commission member Greg Gardner, who is chief architect for defense solutions at NetApp, which headquarters its public sector in Tysons Corner, said the report and the guide are meant to complement existing federal policy documents. Kundra has issued a 25-point federal information technology reform implementation plan as well as a federal cloud computing strategy.

“I don’t know where this is going immediately,” Gardner said of the commission’s work. “I think it is a useful adjunct to Vivek’s two other documents.”

Meanwhile, one early cloud effort is wrapping up. Last week, Unisys announced that it has finished moving the General Services Administration to a cloud-based e-mail system. The GSA had awarded a $6.7 million, five-year task order to Unisys, a Pennsylvania-based contractor that has an extensive presence in the Washington area. Unisys partnered with Google and Tempus Nova.

The migration meant moving 17,000 e-mail users, Unisys said in its statement, and makes GSA the first federal agency to move all its employees to cloud-based e-mail.

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