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Keeper of the Federal Cloud

SPECIAL REPORT : Cloud Computing

By Jeff Erlichman, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.

Patrick Stingley, CTO of the Federal Cloud and his team will construct a Federal Cloud to host applications that work well in a Cloud environment and offer platform services; it will be FISMA certified so all agencies can use it.

After you “talk the talk” about a Cloud Computing strategy and building a Federal Cloud, you actually have to “walk the walk” and do something about it. 

Self proclaimed propeller-head and geek Patrick Stingley, CTO of the Federal Cloud is in charge of doing something about it.

“I’m the CTO for the Federal Cloud,” Stingley told the audience at the Cloud Computing Summit. He said the Administration designated GSA as the lead, but he also made it clear that this is not GSA’s Cloud. “Everybody has part of the Cloud, it is the Federal Cloud.”

What you need to know most about Stingley is that he is ably qualified to do the job. He’s a long time government IT manager that takes his love of IT home. In his spare time at home he works using three types of virtualization systems and a NAS in his basement. “I’m the guy who builds the stuff. That’s what I do. My job is to make sure as we plan the Federal Cloud, that we have the technical knowledge to carry it off.”

A Broad Working Definition

No single approach or architecture can meet all of the governments needs so a tiered approach will be provided. “Our definition of Cloud includes more that you’ll find in wikpedia. We are going to have IT environments that allow people to be able to bolt stuff in such as a DBMS, rent server space as needed, as well as able to use purist Cloud definition stuff,” Stingley explained.

His team will construct a Cloud to host applications that work well in a Cloud environment and offer platform services; it will be FISMA certified so all agencies can use it.

Stingley said the Federal Cloud will eventually offer tiers of services.

Tier 1 Services are all of the free services that are already out there for Web 2.0 and Social Networking such as Facebook. Since government doesn’t own these services, it needs fair use agreements for their use. GSA has just finished those agreements.

Tier 2 Services is when GSA will be making the heavy investment in contracts to provide Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Storage as a Service.

Down The Road

“We are looking down the road at Portal services,” said Stingley. “One of key components to getting everybody on the Cloud is Portal services.”

For example according to Stingley if  you are writing in Pearl or PHS and other agencies are doing the same, it would make sense to put up a Portal so you can write your code and share your code so the other people can see what you’ve written. They might help you fix a bug so quality of code improves and facilitates move to the Cloud.

Stingley also sees personalized storage as a key component on the Cloud. He calls them Web folders because it makes sense to everybody. If these folders are on the Cloud, then staff can you can be anywhere and get back to your files. This makes it much better for telework and COOP because it puts workers in position to get folders from home they can’t get by going through their VPN.

Stingley calls email the “killer app” and said Cloud will result in getting better value from your IT assets. For example, workflow could be monitored and there could be automated reporting of IT inventory and then we can offer some business intelligence tool so you can do an analysis…

“Database as a service is big,” said Stingley. “Eventually we will write apps and talk to web service and powering it will be production quality relational database; we have to stop being driven by new releases of databases. If go to a web service DBMS, then you fix it once and won’t have to spend ten years rewriting all your code and paying every time there is an update.”

Cloud Architectural: Platform Unspecific

The first is to be built on an open architecture with commodity products.

Stingley said they are going to create a set of vehicles, so if you want to go to company here is the price, here is what it does, here is suite of services. Other people will be able to reuse that same contract vehicle and that’s where the collaborative portal comes in to play.

“Within the Cloud we need the collaborative portal, the authentication, email service, workflow,” Stingley noted. “We need a standard set of interfaces and APIs to use the stuff in the Cloud.”

Stingley also advocates the Federal government become less platform specific. “This will allow us to build applications we can use for an indeterminate time because when we tie apps to specific hardware OS and specific languages that require rewriting when one or another get updated, we spend a lot an awful amount of money just to maintain our current functionality.”

“We need to go to the Cloud and abstract ourselves from the hardware and OS, from the platform and doing so we will create a code base for ourselves that will allow us to continue to use software for a long period of time.”

Culture Shift

As usual moving to the Cloud is not a technology issue, though there are issues to be overcome. But they pale to the shift in culture needed.

“You have a culture that needs to change and to embrace the Cloud and embrace the concept of sharing,” urged Stingley. “Cloud computing is a shared service; we need to learn how to share; it’s not a hard concept, but we can’t agree how to do it.”

A good example of this is the Federal Cloud according to Stingley. “The Federal Cloud is being put together; it is a pilot and GSA has been designated to build this.”

“I’ve been trying to figure out what we should call this? If you want to go the Federal Cloud where would you go? Would you go to Cloud@gsa.gov? Well no, it’s not GSA’s Cloud; it’s a shared Cloud, so www.Cloud.gov?”

Stingley said “no, it’s whatever your agency is dot gov; it’s your agency; it’s your infrastructure; it is part of your infrastructure; not GSA’s, but it’s hard to get your head around it sometimes.”

The concept is Cloud is the about shared services. “We need to move away from that concept of vendor specific and platform specific implementations and take a page from the open source community and collaborate,” counseled Stingley.

Easier said than done; so how are we going to get to the Cloud?

“None of the agencies that I’m aware of in the federal government could use a Cloud today,” said Stingley. “Maybe put a website up to the Cloud, but most of the apps we have today are not portable enough to move into the Cloud if we had it today.”

One way to go to the Cloud is for each agency to rewrite its own code and that’s probably what we would do if left our own devices. A better approach and one that can have success explained Stingley one that embraces the Open Source model and puts up a collaborative space so various pieces move on to a Cloud, they share.

“But we need to do this as a government, not as a whole bunch of little armed camps,” warned Stingley. “That’s a big change, but it’s our way to the Cloud.” 

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