Industry increases cloud initiatives

IBM is ready to offer the Federal Community Cloud, a secure cloud environment designed for federal agencies. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin unveiled the Starfire Mission Ready Cloud based on pre-integrated, pretested technology.

The momentum to deliver private cloud computing platforms to government agencies continues to build as IBM and Lockheed Martin enter the fray with new offerings.

IBM is ready to offer the Federal Community Cloud, a secure cloud environment designed for federal agencies. At the local level, IBM is partnering with the New York Conference of Mayors and the Michigan Municipal League to offer the Municipal Shared Services Cloud.

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Last week, Lockheed Martin unveiled the Starfire Mission Ready Cloud based on pre-integrated, pretested technology from Lockheed Martin and the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE), a collaboration of Cisco, EMC and VMware.

Meanwhile, NJVC's Cloud Gateway, which acts as an entryway to other cloud services, will be unveiled this week at the GEOINT 2010 conference held in New Orleans by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. NJVC provides IT operational and cloud computing services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies.

The moves underscore industry’s efforts to drive agencies in the direction of private cloud platforms as a way to sell more hardware and software or offer more integration services, said David Linthicum, chief technology officer and founder of Blue Mountain Labs, an IT consulting firm.

Plus, agencies have no choice but to turn to private clouds given agencies' compliance and security requirements, Linthicum said.

In the past year and a half, civilian and defense agencies have stepped up efforts to offer services via private clouds. The Defense Information Systems Agency provides cloud services to DOD users through the Rapid Access Computing Environment. The Homeland Security Department recently signed agreements to deliver Microsoft SharePoint and e-mail services to its component agencies through a private cloud. The Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory recently started offering researchers and scientists the means to provision servers and computing resources via a private cloud.

Cloud computing is a model that promotes on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

A private cloud infrastructure is operated solely for one organization. It might be managed by the organization or a third party, and it might exist on-premise or off-premise, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Cloud computing is a key part of the Obama administration’s initiative to lower IT expenses and improve operational efficiency across government. Officials at IBM, Lockheed Martin and other cloud services providers see their offerings as a means for agencies to focus on their core missions in a secure environment without having to worry about the capital expenditures, maintenance and support issues associated with traditional IT operations.

IBM: Private and multitenant

IBM’s Federal Community Cloud is a secure, private multitenant cloud designed to meet the demanding requirements of the federal government, said David McQueeney, chief technology officer at IBM's U.S. Federal division.

IBM will initially offer infrastructure as a service, which allows users to provision processing, storage, networks and other computing resources. Later offerings will include platform as a service and software as a service.

IBM has hosted government applications and systems at its data centers for years, “which are intermediate steps to the private cloud,” McQueeney said. Accordingly, IBM officials have certified their operations at the high level under the Federal Information Security Management Act, he said, and the company is now in the process of attaining certification through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.

FedRAMP is an interagency initiative to provide a governmentwide certification process for cloud products and services. The aim is to reduce costs and duplication for agencies seeking to certify products and services for security compliance.

Two agencies have signed on to the Federal Community Cloud so far, and IBM is just waiting for the FedRAMP stamp of approval to proceed. “The environment is built and customers are ready to go,” McQueeney said.

Shared services

At the state and local level, IBM Research and IBM Global Technology Services are collaborating with municipal governments on the Municipal Shared Services Cloud, which combines advanced data analytics and software as a service. The cloud integrates services from multiple providers onto an easy-to-use platform that agencies can share.

The cloud will offer independent software vendors a low-cost, scalable, secure platform through which they can provide services to local governments, McQueeney said.

Local governments are facing fiscal challenges that hamper their ability to deliver essential services, said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. The organization is coordinating the participation of its members in IBM's pilot project to test the municipal cloud.

“The use of the cloud will reduce hardware infrastructure costs and the need to have hardware in city hall,” Baynes said. Additionally, if software vendors become part of the process, agencies and departments can keep their software of choice but will be able to communicate with other departments internally and with agencies that have disparate software via IBM analytics.

The property tax process is a good example. Tax processing spans multiple departments, including building, assessment, tax and finance. Each department typically maintains its own applications, and information sharing is frequently manual. With the IBM platform, information would flow between the applications, and much of the manual work would be eliminated, IBM officials said.

Lockheed Martin is responding to demand for turnkey private cloud solutions for government and the private sector, said Curt Aubley, vice president of NextGen Cyber Security and Innovation at the company’s Information Systems and Global Solutions division.

Starfire Mission Ready Cloud is based on Lockheed Martin's cybersecurity technology and cloud command and control technology, as well as cloud computing and data center technology from its partners. Starfire builds on VCE’s Vblock technology, which provides a trusted environment that addresses concerns of data security, privacy and enhanced performance, Aubley said.

NJVC’s broker model allows the company to enhance cloud offerings with security monitoring and other services, said Kevin Jackson, an engineering fellow at NJVC. Through the cloud gateway, users will have access to two services: cloud-based, deployable geographic information systems and NJVC's cybersecurity dashboard.

The cloud-based GIS is a managed services front end to a cloud computing environment that provides both physical and virtual GIS workstations, local shared storage, and access to printers and scanners.

The cybersecurity dashboard offers users customizable, real-time situational awareness by organizing huge amounts of data from an unlimited number of collection points across an enterprise and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format.

Agencies considering the move to private clouds should enlist the aid of objective advisers who will help in selecting a solution that is right for their requirements — whether public, private or hybrid cloud, Linthicum said.