This fall, Michigan plans to break ground on a massive data center to provide cloud computing services to the public sector. In Utah, the Department of Technology Services (DTS) offers cloud services to cities at prices competitive to commercial companies.
But in the expanding world of cloud computing, Colorado is going a different route.
There will be no 100,000-square-foot data center. The state doesn't want to compete with vendors. Instead, Colorado's Statewide Internet Portal Authority (SIPA) seeks to collaborate with the private sector to provide cloud computing services to state and local governments.
As the oversight body of the Colorado.gov portal, SIPA is a quasi-government agency and officials say no other states have used the approach taken to create this cloud model, referred to as the COPE (Collaboration, Office Productivity and E-mail) project.
On Jan. 20, SIPA issued an RFP seeking a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for Web-based e-mail and office productivity applications. The solution would allow state and local government entities to save the money it costs to license all devices with all applications by providing on-demand licensing via existing private clouds. The announcement comes just months after the federal government launched Apps.gov, an online storefront where government agencies can acquire cloud-based services from private companies like Google and Salesforce.com.
"We're going to the private sector and utilizing their cloud, rather than creating our own homegrown cloud," said John D. Conley, SIPA's executive director. "It will give us the best e-mail, security and office applications, but through a quasi-government entity, you'll be able to have single sign-on."
Traditionally local governments procure on-site solutions with servers stored in data centers. But an employee also needs software to access information on those servers, usually purchased through a license arrangement.
Citing a 2009 Forrester Report, Conley said the average monthly cost for on-premise e-mail is between $16 and $25 per account. That means a government agency with 2,500 e-mail accounts will pay between $40,000 and $62,500 per month. With SaaS, he said, those costs come down.
"Not only will I deliver you e-mail, but instant messaging and office productivity," he said. "All this for two-thirds less than what you're paying on-premise."
In the Colorado model, Conley said, a user would only need to enter a name and password to log onto the network from any computer at any time. Not only that, but connecting with the private sector rather than a government cloud means the state does not have to pay to build a data center.
This is important because, as Colorado's former deputy state CIO, Conley said he has watched funding streams for technology dry up in the past. Ultimately he doesn't believe a government cloud would be sustainable in the long term.
"If we can't invest the dollars today," he said, "I don't know sending them to the cloud would change the culture overnight."
In reality, government entities can access private-sector clouds on their own. But doing so can create problems. First, Conley said, the funding pipeline is not equipped to handle thousands of different procurement requests. In addition, while large cities might benefit, small towns often are overlooked.
Created to provide shared IT services across all jurisdictional levels, SIPA would serve as a bridge between the chosen companies and the state's 270 municipalities in a model where no town gets left behind.
Whereas the COPE project would decrease competition among cities and jurisdictions, Conley hopes the RFP increases the competition among commercial companies.
Ideally SIPA wants to collaborate with a company that can meet all 90-plus requirements, including Web-based e-mail, instant messaging and video conferencing, among others. But, Conley said, companies may need to form partnerships to meet the criteria.
"I think this is a unique opportunity for Colorado," he said. "If adoption is there, I think we'll see other government entities follow in leveraging the private sector rather than trying to create it in-house."
Photo: Denver capitol building/Photo courtesy of Wikipedia/Hustvedt