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GSA to launch online storefront for cloud computing services

The General Services Administration plans to launch an online storefront that agencies can use to purchase computing services that are stored and maintained by third-party providers, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a symposium on the practice of using such services, known as "cloud computing," at the National Defense University in Washington, Kundra expanded on his promise to bring remote hosting, storage and access services to the federal government. GSA will be at the heart of upcoming federal cloud computing initiatives and would be tasked with creating the storefront, he said. Kundra did not say when the storefront would open for business.

"We're looking to create a center of gravity for IT at GSA. There's no center of gravity right now; that's the reason we have so many silos" of redundant IT services and applications, he said.

The storefront will be designed to replicate the straightforward online purchasing experience offered by commercial businesses such as Amazon.com, Kundra said. Agencies will be able to select technology services such as remote storage or hosted applications without worrying about whether the products comply with various IT procurement and cybersecurity regulations. GSA will ensure that all services comply with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act and are loaded with the necessary security certifications and accreditations.

"You can literally go in as an agency and provision [cloud computing services] on a real-time basis," he said. "That's where the government really needs to move as we look at standardization. The storefront will be simple. . . . It hasn't happened yet because it's too hard and we make it too complex."

Kundra said shifting the federal government to a cloud computing model is crucial to reducing the technology gap between the federal government and the private sector. In the traditional federal procurement process, it can take up to two years to develop and deploy a new system. Agencies using cloud services rely on vendors to refresh or update systems without any downtime.

"For far too long, we have thrown bodies at problems instead of thinking about them intelligently," he said. "It's unacceptable in my view that it takes us a year to roll out solutions you can roll out in your personal life in minutes."

Kundra said the federal government currently spends almost half of its $70 billion IT budget on infrastructure, costs that could be significantly reduced by shifting to software and infrastructure as a service.

Google Enterprise President David Girouard, speaking at the symposium after Kundra, said his company hopes to secure FISMA accreditation for its services by the end of the year. That could pave the way for agencies to adopt the company's highly popular Google Apps and Gmail services, which Kundra deployed in District of Columbia government operations when he was the city's chief technology officer.

Alfred Rivera, director of computing services for the Defense Information Systems Agency, one of the first in government to use cloud computing extensively, said managing software licensing and convincing employees to adapt their culture to the new approach were two of the biggest challenges. He also emphasized that agencies must have some flexibility to tweak or expand systems initially to ensure customers receive the service levels they require.

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