Photo: Dave McClure, associate administrator, U.S. General Services Administration Office of Citizen Services and Communications
Pitched as a virtual field of dreams that would help make data-storage issues and server problems disappear, the federal government's cloud IT services platform, a year in the making, will be delayed for at least another three months.
It's no small irony that a cloud IT project predicted on making federal, state and local government agencies more efficient still hasn't gotten off the ground. But in the past year, as the cloud computing market expanded, the General Services Administration (GSA) in February canceled its cloud computing request for quotation (RFQ) and started over.
The GSA plans to issue a new RFQ later in 2010 with stricter security measures, more offerings from vendors and a better overall idea of what CIOs want with a cloud. Until then, at Apps.gov, under the cloud IT services category, you won't be able to click past a page with "Cloud storage," "Virtual machines" and "Web hosting" tabs. Coming Soon, they say.
"Eleven months ago, cloud was a term that was being thrown around lightly to mean different things," said Dave McClure, associate administrator for GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications. "There's a better understanding of the different options now."
The cancellation comes nearly a year after GSA invited vendors to propose cloud infrastructure services. But it only took a few months before the original RFQ became outdated. Moving forward, McClure said, the agency aims to engage industry groups and assemble a team to find out from CIOs in the field what works and what doesn't when it comes to cloud IT services - a good call considering several state and local governments have been busy pursuing their own cloud computing dreams.
In Utah, for instance, the Department of Technology Services (DTS) already offers cloud services to cities at prices that are competitive to commercial companies. On the other side of the country, Loudoun County, Va., uses cloud-based services to stream video and audio of board meetings over the Internet, manage the budget system and track job applicants, said Eugene D. Troxell, Loudoun County's IT director.
While the delay of such a promising cloud IT platform might be disappointing, it gives GSA extra time to develop a more comprehensive game plan, according to Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Public Sector Group at TechAmerica.
"No one wants a failed procurement," Grkavac said. "If GSA had concerns, it is better that they address them now, and we're hoping that with additional input, the next RFQ will be successful and go to award."
No two governments look exactly alike. Throughout the public sector, budgets and demands vary, which affects how departments operate on federal, state and local levels. But one common thread comes from the fact that IT problems can hinder productivity. By consolidating services, the cloud cuts costs and streamlines the procurement process, allowing clients to purchase outsourced software, servers, network equipment and data center space.
In September 2009, U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra launched Apps.gov, an online procurement vehicle featuring federally certified software. In a blog posted to the White House Web site, Kundra called Apps.gov a "one-stop source for cloud services -- an innovation that not only can change how IT operates, but also save taxpayer dollars in the process." On the site, Cloud IT Services is one of four broad categories, but it's the only one yet to go live.
"Historically the friction that slows down development is around the end process, the time to complete the procurement and ensure security is correct," said the GSA's CIO