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Cloud seen as answer to big data needs

Jul. 9, 2013 - 03:11PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments

Some agency managers are still reluctant to hand over their data to cloud computing providers, for fear of diminished security or potential hassles should they need to switch vendors.

But the government’s growing appetite for collecting information is forcing agencies to consider the promised benefits of cloud computing, such as storing and managing their data for less money and the ability to access data from any device over the Internet. The latter is a major tenet of the Obama administration’s push to make more data accessible to the public, and to increase productivity by allowing employees to access systems and files remotely, or via the cloud.

“We see a lot of momentum behind these changes, but it’s still [in the] early days,” Mark Ryland, with Amazon Web Services’ World Wide Public Sector, said of agencies using cloud computing to manage large amounts of varying and complex data. Agencies often refer to this as big data.

Amazon’s recent $600 million cloud contract with the CIA, though interrupted by a protest, is proof of the momentum Ryland is seeing. Under the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with a four-year base period, Amazon was to provide a modified version of its public cloud, or cloud services available to the general public. However, the cloud hardware and software was required to be installed in a government facility and operated by Amazon.

But IBM protested the contract with the Government Accountability Office. GAO last month released a public version of its decision that agreed with some of IBM’s complaints, including the CIA’s failure to evaluate pricing for both vendors fairly.

In its decision, GAO recommended that the CIA reopen the competition and amend the solicitation to ensure bid proposals are evaluated fairly.

“The CIA and the [intelligence community] in general have said that they want to retain all of the data they collect,” said Alex Rossino, a principal analyst at market research firm Deltek. “This means that storage will be an exponentially growing requirement for the CIA and a huge area of profit for industry partners.”

The “$600 million was really just the beginning,” Rossino said. “We are talking potentially doubling [the contract to] at least $1.2 billion” over a potential nine-year period.

Ryland said the CIA contract signals “that people looking to the future of IT [information technology] are seeing that the future lies in these large-scale commodity, computing architectures.”

In other words, buying tons of servers and standing up massive data centers is not the way of the future for agencies. In fact, the government is shuttering hundreds of data centers and urging agencies to share common IT hardware and software applications. Agencies also have been instructed to consider cloud solutions as a first option for data storage and Internet hosting needs.

Historically, rarely accessed data have been stored on large tapes or other devices and shipped to storage facilities, said Joe Brown, president and cofounder of Accelera Solutions.

“Customers have a much more dynamic way to store, retrieve and operate [data] in cloud environments,” Brown said. “They don’t have to call someone and say, ‘Retrieve data, bring it to my office and let me reconstitute it on my server,’” or format the data to be analyzed.

“The ability to ... more quickly get to data sets ultimately allows you to perform analytics more quickly and test different data sets to get more useful, meaningful data out of them,” Brown said.

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