DHS, HUD cloud strategies take shape

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Agencies of all sizes and missions are making plans to adopt cloud computing and consolidate data centers as per Office of Management and Budget guidance, said agency chief information officers during a March 16 panel.

"It's been a bit of an arduous process; I can't deny that," said Richard Spires, chief information officer of the Homeland Security Department.

DHS is on track to close eight data centers this year, but given the way his department came together in 2002 it's been a cultural challenge to get all the components to work together, Spires said during a panel discussion at IRMCO in Washington, D.C. When there are mission-critical programs running well under the watch of components, it's difficult for them to give up ownership, he said.

"There was that big trust factor and, frankly, there was us maturing the model. Only in the last year, we finally bit the bullet and hired customer service representatives," said Spires. The representatives help with the physical move, but their most important role is to help clients adjust culturally, he added.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has no federally-owned data centers and is fully outsourced. But vendor management and communication has been a struggle for the department, forcing HUD to adopt a model that focuses on transparency.

"We have a lot of systems in some degree of legacy stance. And when you start talking about cloud readiness, we've got a problem," said Mark Day, HUD's chief technology officer.

Given the constrained budget environment, "it may be difficult to port your systems to the latest and greatest, and yet, your cloud vendor is not particularly interested in maintaining lots of legacy environments."

Day said HUD needs transparency in terms of unit price, because it uses a fixed-price managed service contract, which means it contracts for the "entire ball of wax, one price for all year."

With such contracts it's important to understand the units, he said. It's easy to describe 10 servers; it's much harder to describe the actual work that needs to be produced from 10 servers, said Day. HUD is developing language and models that better convey output needs.

"That's not easy. How do you explain your applications?" asked Day. "How do I build a model that allows the vendor to understand what they need to provide, based upon the work I'm producing, not because I told him I used to have 10 virtual machines?"

Despite the initial pain of adjusting business models to emphasize trust and transparency, Spires and Day said the payoff of greater agility, efficiency and cost effectiveness is worth it.

OMB's data center consolidation effort aims to shutter 800 facilities by 2015. Meanwhile, the OMB cloud first mandate requires every agency to have one cloud solution in place by December 2011 and up to three cloud-based programs by June 2012.

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