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Agencies to look for a 'cloud option'

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By Marjorie Censer
Monday, November 22, 2010

The federal government is adopting a "cloud-first" policy, marking the administration's strongest statement yet in support of Web-based computing as it looks to overhaul the way it buys information technology.

Jeffrey Zients, the federal government's first chief performance officer, announced last week that the Office of Management and Budget will now require federal agencies to default to cloud-based solutions "whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists."

The shift is part of a broader set of changes aimed at improving IT procurement. In recent months, the federal government has shut down or restructured a host of technology programs after they ran over budget and behind schedule.

"Fixing IT is central to everything we're trying to do across government," Zients said. "IT is our top priority."

Zients outlined a series of initiatives the government plans to launch in the next six months, including pilot efforts to give agencies more flexibility in how they budget for programs. In addition, the administration wants to reconstitute oversight panels known as investment review boards and establish a career path for program managers.

The government is slated to hold an open meeting Dec. 9 to outline the government's detailed execution plan.

Zients said the government is seeking to better align its IT acquisition processes with the fast pace at which technology changes.

"The government's been trying to do this for a long time . . . but obstacles have always gotten in the way," Zients said. "We finally clear out those obstacles and allow agencies to successfully apply the agile, modular development approach."

As federal officials push agencies to move their data and applications to the Web, they are also seeking major reductions in the number of data centers the government uses. Last month, Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, reported that the government has close to 2,100 data centers.

Zients said the government is moving to reduce that total by at least 40 percent by 2015. He said the administration plans to present a consolidation plan in March, complete with target dates.

Cloud computing supporters said the move to Web-based computing should make it easier to consolidate data storage because the technology relies on a shared pool of resources, making it possible for networks, servers and other equipment to be used more efficiently.

Zients outlined the changes at a Northern Virginia Technology Council meeting Friday, and they seemed well received by some in the IT community. Industry Association TechAmerica said the changes could revolutionize federal technology.


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