Federal government seeks bids for cloud computing services

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, July 5, 2010; 7

Local companies are hoping to help the federal government move into cloud -- or Internet-based -- computing, as the General Services Administration prepares to select vendors able to offer the services to federal agencies.

The GSA and federal officials are touting the promise of the new technology, but the Government Accountability Office warns that federal agencies remain concerned about potential security risks.

David L. McClure, associate administrator for the GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said the agency plans to announce its selection of approved vendors in September. Federal agencies are not barred from selecting contractors off the list, but such acquisitions can be more complicated.

"We've devised an acquisition vehicle that allows agencies to get access to these services in a very competitively priced environment and one that's simplified, so we think it will be a win-win both for industry as well as for agencies," McClure said.

By accessing services on the Internet, agencies can avoid the costs of buying computers and creating networks to host the services themselves. And the technology can be used on an as-needed basis, making it potentially cheaper and quicker to set up.

But the GAO released a report last week that indicates federal agencies remain concerned they could lose control over their data or that information might be unprotected or even deleted by cloud providers.

"Cloud computing is inevitable," McClure said. "It's the speed and pace and direction that we're always uncertain of, but it's an inevitable move because the computing industry itself is moving in this direction."

Among the companies seeking to win cloud computer work is Chantilly-based Apptis, which is partnering with Amazon Web Services.

"This is a very important program for the government because it addresses a couple things that have been inhibitors to cloud, the first being ease of procurement," said Phil Horvitz, the company's chief technology officer.

Additionally, he said, government concerns about security are addressed in the cloud requirements.

Tim May, Apptis's senior vice president for business development, said he predicts cloud computing will play an increasing role in the government -- and that the GSA program will help federal agencies become more comfortable with it.

"We've made the comparison to 1995 with the Internet. If you rewind 15 years, there was skepticism," May said. "Now it's used in financial transactions, it's second nature."

Apptis is hardly alone in its interest. Many information technology companies are looking into the cloud business, according to Deniece Peterson, industry analysis manager at Input, a firm that studies the government contracting market.

"I think that cloud computing is an area of interest even for companies that ultimately decide they can't play in the space," she said. "Everyone looks at it."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company