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Feds' Cloud Migration Percolates With Agency Deals

Feds' Cloud Migration Percolates With Agency Deals

"In addition to federal budget pressure, in a technology-oriented administration there is pressure to be innovative and agile. Cloud computing offers interesting opportunities in those respects," said Patton Boggs partner Monica Desai. "As the administration's Cloud First reform platform continues to move from aspirational to reality, ... other agencies will feel additional pressure to adopt."

By John K. Higgins E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
11/21/12 5:00 AM PT

Adoption of cloud technology at the federal level is still far from routine -- but cloud transactions continue to emerge on a regular basis. The deals range in value, demonstrating that cloud migration can be applied for relatively small deployments or for huge networks.

In the latest major deal, HP Enterprise Services will provide a cloud-based email system for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that will eventually cover 600,000 users. Under terms of the contract revealed in mid-November, HP will lead and manage the implementation of the VA cloud migration to enhance reliability, security, privacy and compliance, as well as create geographically diverse disaster recovery.

Moving to the cloud will enable the department to fulfill the Cloud First federal goal geared toward improving employee productivity and collaboration, and reducing costs.

The technology for the VA project will consist of Microsoft Office 365 for Government, including a separate community cloud for email, shared calendars, instant messaging, and Web and video conferencing. It also includes industry-associated applications such as cloud-based Office, Exchange, Lync and SharePoint. The US$36 million contract covers a five-year implementation period.

"The VA needed to transform into a 21st century organization that could enable employees to collaborate more effectively," said Marilyn Crouther, senior vice president and general manager, U.S. Public Sector for HP Enterprise Services.

More Cloud Contracts Signed

The VA project came close on the heels of a similar, but smaller, contract between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Lockheed Martin, awarded in late October. The $9.8-million contract calls for Lockheed to migrate the agency's email system to the cloud.

"This contract is a great example of a federal agency taking a key step to move mission-critical functionality to the cloud," Lynn Singleton, director of environmental programs for Lockheed Martin Energy Solutions, told the E- Commerce Times.

In partnership with Microsoft, Lockheed Martin will manage the EPA migration and provide engineering and ongoing integration services.

The deployment, which will impact 25,000 users, "reflects a great commitment from EPA's leadership," Singleton said.

"EPA has chosen the Microsoft Office 365 multitenant service that stores the U.S. government's data in a segregated community cloud that includes calendars, email, collaboration and scheduling tools for external and internal use," Susie Adams, federal CTO at Microsoft, told the E-Commerce Times.

"There is tremendous potential in the cloud -- not only for lowering costs, but for transforming the way government employees work," she said. "EPA joins a growing list of agencies that have chosen to embrace cloud computing with Microsoft to realize these benefits."

Microsoft is also supporting cloud migrations at the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a much smaller deal, the Federal Trade Commission awarded CGI Federal a five-year, $3.5 million contract in late October. The contract was awarded under the General Services Administration Infrastructure as a Service Blanket Purchase Agreement, under which CGI is accredited to deliver certified, secure government cloud services.

CGI will develop a cloud solution for FTC's public-facing websites, including FTC.gov. The contract includes services to help streamline the migration, implementation, and testing and development support of the websites and associated applications.

"The demand for cloud continues to grow as agencies seek to implement affordable solutions that have increased security, provided more availability, and have better performance," said Toni Townes-Whitley, senior vice president for civilian agency programs at CGI.

Vendors Respond to Federal Market

Just as federal agencies are getting more comfortable with the cloud, vendors are finding more ways to accommodate the federal agency customer-base. Some recent examples:

  • AT&T Government Solutions received "authority to operate" status from the GSA in late October for AT&T's Synaptic Storage as a Service product, utilizing GSA's Infrastructure as a Service Blanket Purchase Agreement. The service allows federal agencies to securely store, distribute and retrieve data on-demand.

    The Synaptic Storage offering and AT&T's "on-network" cloud approach "will provide agencies a secure, cost-effective way to innovate and reduce capital expenses as they move data and applications to the cloud," said Thomas Harvey, senior vice president, AT&T Government Solutions.

  • Microsoft and hosting partner Layered Tech introduced a Microsoft Dynamics Government Cloud solution in mid-November. The offering was designed from the ground up for delivery exclusively to U.S. federal government enterprise customers.

    "One of the things we found through our Office 365 collaboration is there are many federal agencies interested in a dedicated cloud-based solution," Adams said in a company blog.

    The Microsoft Dynamics offering was designed to meet that interest.

    "We found that right now in the business applications space, from a competitive perspective, there is no one else offering a solution that has dedicated servers and storage. Most offer a multitenant public cloud or government community cloud, not a dedicated solution," she explained.

    The offering meets requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act.

With the continuation of the Obama administration's program to shore up federal information technology, migration to the cloud configurations should pick up at a faster pace in 2013 and beyond.

"In addition to federal budget pressure, in a technology-oriented administration there is pressure to be innovative and agile. Cloud computing offers interesting opportunities in those respects, "Monica Desai, partner and technology counselor at Patton Boggs, told the E-Commerce Times.

"As the administration's Cloud First reform platform continues to move from aspirational to reality, and early adopting agencies begin demonstrating successful cloud implementation, other agencies will feel additional pressure to adopt," she said.

Some Concerns Remain

Not that there aren't still some clouds on the horizon for cloud adoption.

"In addition to various different types of privacy and data security issues, concerns have also been raised regarding the possibility of a few large players creating 'cloud cartels.' On the flip side, some have raised concerns regarding whether current federal government procurement procedures, which generally result in the purchase of commodities in a fragmented and non-aggregated manner, can support cloud computing on a scale necessary for widespread implementation," Desai said.

Another potential obstacle to rapid adoption is government agency readiness.

"Some government systems are more ready to switch to cloud computing than others," Desai observed.

The potential savings for cloud migrations by federal agencies are significant -- but it is still early days in the adoption process to fully demonstrate cloud productivity. GSA was the first federal agency to move its email services to the cloud when it awarded a migration contract to Unisys in 2010.

"It's been just over a year since GSA transitioned to Google's cloud-based email platform, and to date the agency has realized cost savings of $2 million," GSA Chief Information Officer Casey Coleman said in an agency blog in September.

"As the first large federal agency to adopt cloud-based email, GSA is leading the way and serving as a best practices model for other government agencies," she added. "In fact, early estimates show that GSA will save $15 million in costs over the next five years."

However, the agency was unable to verify whether adequate progress was being made toward the projected savings goals, it said in a report released Sept. 28 -- largely because of insufficient data regarding performance of the system.

The agency stands by its earlier estimate.

"A recent IG audit recommended that GSA update the cost savings analysis associated with the cloud migration," GSA spokesperson Mafara Hobson told the E-Commerce Times.

"GSA supports this recommendation and is currently updating the analysis to detail the ongoing savings from the project," she said.

As of Oct. 1, savings amounted to $1.8-million in software and licensing costs; $484,000 in hardware; $129,000 in staffing and $485,000 in services and support.


John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.


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