Delays in Networx transition put cloud computing decisions on hold

Officials are considering cloud services, but don't want to commit to them until they are further along in their move to the new telecommunications pact, vendor says.

The Networx telecommunications services contract comes with everything agencies need to set up so-called cloud computing frameworks, but agencies are reluctant to take advantage of that capability due to delays switching to the new services, according to Networx contractor Verizon Business.

Agency officials are eager to discuss Verizon's cloud services but "a lot of them don't want to make the decisions about cloud computing" until they are at least halfway through the Networx transition, said Susan Zeleniak, group president of Verizon Federal.

Cost-cutting is the main driver of cloud computing, which involves renting information technology tools and services from another agency or company through the Internet. Pilot projects already are under way at agencies such as NASA, but security specialists predict the government will need a decade to migrate to the cloud because of inherent challenges such as data protection and upfront costs.

In the forthcoming fiscal 2011 budget request, President Obama is expected to require agencies to start moving their IT to the cloud. But agencies are in the midst of a more pressing IT migration. They must move thousands of voice and data circuits from contract arrangements set to expire in spring 2011 to the newer Networx program.

The leaders of a Senate oversight committee announced on Dec. 9 they were probing delays with the switch-over, which they contend are costing taxpayers millions of dollars. They urged the White House to exert stronger leadership.

"Specifically, every month that agencies delay transitioning to the new program, an estimated $18 million of savings are lost," wrote Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, in a letter to federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients.

The General Services Administration might be inclined to seek a standard cloud offering when the federal government accelerates its push toward the arrangement, Verizon officials told reporters during a Tuesday briefing. The company would develop a plain vanilla service, if that is the case, but also provide customization, officials said. "Every agency will want a different flavor," likely for security reasons, Zeleniak said.

One cloud-like option available under Networx from Verizon provides agencies with dedicated servers and other necessary infrastructure, such as Internet connectivity, to outsource Web publishing services.

GSA officials said they are striving to ascertain agencies' evolving requirements for cloud services.

"While cloud services are within the scope of the [Networx] contracts and orderable using a tailored statement of work, more standardized offerings require that commonly accepted standards and service definitions be defined,"said Karl Krumbholz, GSAs's director of Network services programs.