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General Services Administration's CIO Looks To The Cloud

Casey Coleman reveals the GSA's role in driving a government-wide cloud computing initiative and other IT priorities.

The U.S. General Services Administration finds itself in the midst of a number of major shifts in terms of delivering information technology, one of the foremost of which is cloud computing.

Meanwhile, the GSA also has some IT initiatives of its own underway, like energy efficiency and telework. InformationWeek recently chatted with GSA CIO Casey Coleman about GSA's role in driving a government-wide cloud computing initiative and about GSA's own IT priorities.

InformationWeek: What role can GSA play in helping the government accelerate its use of cloud computing and in helping to drive the government's cloud initiatives?

Coleman: GSA is a partner with industry providers to put them under contract with terms and conditions that can be tapped into by other agencies.

InformationWeek: Does that just mean driving schedule changes, does that mean helping those vendors put in bids for contracts, or does it mean something more?

Coleman: It certainly means those items you mentioned. One of the things that appears to be of interest is for GSA to take some of the friction out of the processes that agencies must follow and speed up their ability to obtain solutions from GSA. So, for example, let's say have a Web site and you don't have ready-made capacity, so you need infrastructure as a service, you would typically have to prepare a statement of work and go through some kind of source selection, do an acquisition, make an award, conduct a FISMA [Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002] certification and accreditation, and continually monitor that environment, and you would have to replicate those functions every time more Web hosting is needed. If GSA were to provide infrastructure as a service and we pre-compete the vendors so that those vendors can compete only on price or on customer satisfaction for past service and if we do this business certification and accreditation, then an agency in minutes or hours could have hosting capabilities available.

InformationWeek: Is there room for the GSA to be more of a shared services environment?

Coleman: We do some of that. We have shared services such as the HSPD-12 [Homeland Security Presidential Directive] smart card badges. Agencies don't have to re-do the technical assessments and so forth. I think that's an area where GSA could do more and it will depend on the goals of the administration.

InformationWeek: So there may, with that caveat, be a role there for cloud computing?

Coleman: I think that is an area where we could deliver. That's a leadership decision as to whether that's appropriate, but it's within the boundaries of what we can and have done in the past.

InformationWeek: What are you guys doing in terms of energy efficiency?

Coleman: What are we not doing? GSA's right in the middle of it. Two years ago, we consolidated all of our agency infrastructure, called GITGO, GSA IT Global Operations. We have turned off almost 500 servers that, through consolidation and virtualization were no longer needed.

GSA has a very robust telework program. We have over 40% of our workers teleworking and we have issued over 9,000 new laptops to enable our employees to work remotely. Those machines are over 25% more efficient than the ones that we replaced.

We've committed to eco-friendly recycling through our provider Intelligent Decisions. The ones that we didn't recycle we donate to schools, so we're trying to minimize the impact on landfills through recycling and reuse of equipment.

InformationWeek: One of the things that comes up repeatedly in your strategic plan is the existence of silos, stovepiped systems, and decoupled services. What are you doing to eliminate or consolidate some of those, and where are the biggest pain points that you'd like to see closed up?

Coleman: The next step to eliminating stovepipes is really identity and access management. Rather than each application and each system having its own user ID and password, we'll be using our managed smart cards for two-factor authentication so we can reduce the number of user IDs and passwords, improve security, improve our audit trail so we know when access was granted and when it was removed for those employees and contractors using our systems.

InformationWeek: What are the longer-term things you'd like to do?

Data center consolidation is one. I'd like to move toward voice over IP, toward unified communications and softphones to better support our telework initiative and provide more unified capabilities on the desktop.

InformationWeek:, that runs on Terremark's cloud infrastructure. What drove that choice to run that there, rather than just in a traditional facility?

Coleman: They had a lot of areas where they wanted to do more innovation, but their appropriation was at a certain level and there wasn't going to be a lot more money coming. It was time to renegotiate their hosting contract anyway. They put it up for re-competition, but wrote the statement of work to try to capture some of the developments in cloud computing and capture some of the cost efficiencies that industry now can offer. I believe they were able to save something like 80 to 90% of what previously they had been spending.

InformationWeek: What are you guys doing to be more transparent and open within OCIO [Office of the Chief Information Officer] and to the public?

Coleman: We publish a quarterly report on all of our service levels, our costs and the status of development initiatives, and I'd like to take that further and put that on our Intranet site so any employee can see when we're going to move to the next version of the e-mail client, for example. We've really stepped up our transparency internally, and I think that's as important as transparency to the public because of GSA's mission as a provider of business capabilities to the federal government.

That's not to say we don't have a public mission. We're participating in and providing all the stimulus spending that we are doing through that mechanism, and all of our contract and procurement data is going to be through There's a lot of room for improvement in terms of making the data more useful, but we do try to make it available.

InformationWeek: What are you doing to accelerate your telework initiative?

Coleman: Longer term, we'd like to allow an open network where any device can be used on our network if properly authenticated, and that would be helpful in the event that power went out and people were told not to report to work but that wasn't foreseen and they didn't take laptops with them. We are deploying an enterprise version of Citrix to allow just that.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on private cloud computing. Download the report here (registration required).

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