Data Storage Opens Up New Source of Work for IT Firms
Like many large information technology firms in the Washington region, Apptis has been in the business of helping government agencies integrate huge software and hardware systems. The government has paid the company hundreds of millions of dollars to buy new equipment, set it up and provide teams of engineers to maintain it.
But about a year ago, the Chantilly IT contractor changed course. Instead of selling hundreds of servers and costly software licenses, Apptis began helping agencies house data on outside servers, offering access to less-expensive software services and consolidating equipment to cut costs.
"We were cannibalizing our own business," said Phil Horvitz, Apptis's chief technology officer. "But if we didn't do it, someone else would have come in and done it instead."
Nearly half of the government's information technology budget -- about $33 billion -- is spent in the Washington region, according to Input, a Reston market-research firm that tracks federal contracts. Senior analyst Deniece Peterson expects IT spending to increase 3 to 4 percent over the next five years.
Contractors that sell technology services are shifting their business strategies to embrace the latest buzzwords in government IT: cloud computing, open source and virtualization.
To industry outsiders, the terms may seem bizarre and contrived. But proponents say the services, which are often used together, can increase efficiency and save the government billions of dollars in IT costs.
Cloud computing, which refers to storing data in remote data centers -- or "clouds" -- rather than onsite servers, has gained traction over the past six months. Companies such as Amazon and Salesforce want agencies to store e-mail, records and other information on their servers. Employees would access information through an Internet browser.
"There are more events about cloud computing than there are about homeland security these days," Horvitz said. "But we're really still at the infancy of cloud computing. It's emerging."
While some agencies are experimenting, officials are wary of storing data on servers that are out of the government's control. Companies such as Google and IBM are trying to convince officials that their clouds are heavily guarded and even better able to withstand threats than privately run clouds.
In addition, uniform standards have not yet been developed to ensure that different cloud technologies can work together securely.
"Security may be the real choke point of adoption in the federal government," said David Link, chief executive of ScienceLogic, a Reston IT firm.
In a survey of several hundred federal chief information officers, ScienceLogic found that only 11 percent of departments were using cloud computing, but many said they anticipated using the technology in the future.