Agencies seek cloud computing services on Networx

More federal agencies want the greater security and sophisticated technology the huge telecom program provides.

Agencies looking to purchase new data networks on the Networx acquisition vehicle are increasingly interested in services such as remote storage, remote access and hosting applications -- collectively known as cloud computing.

Networx is the government's largest telecommunications program to date with a ceiling of 10 years and $68 billion. It replaces the expiring FTS2001 contract and offers more advanced telecom technologies and services than its predecessor. At her confirmation hearing in June, Martha Johnson, President Obama's choice to lead the General Services Administration, told lawmakers she believes the transition to Networx is too slow and the delays are costing taxpayers millions of dollars every month.

Susan Zeleniak, group president of Verizon Federal, said her company is seeing more inquiries from agencies about Networx and expects business to boom this fall. She said initial interest in Networx was related largely to phone networks, but during the last few months more agencies have sought to purchase data networks to replace expiring FTS2001 agreements.

Zeleniak said agencies have shown greater interest in having vendors manage part or all of their data networks, including security, maintenance, configuration and updates. Some agencies also would like to purchase services and applications that will be housed on remote servers managed by the Networx vendor.

"I think Networx offers all of the capabilities to deliver cloud computing," she said. "The trend is toward the external, transformational model that GSA had in mind."

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge office of McLean, Va.-based contractor FedSources, acknowledged that the approach could yield cost savings and allow the government to upgrade its technology more easily. But he cautioned that the unique statutory requirements related to security and privacy for federal networks make it difficult to rely on outside vendors, particularly in an era of frequent corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Bjorklund also said while there is a great deal of interest in cloud computing, few agencies have made big waves in the area, and it's not yet clear which procurement vehicle will be used for the services. He said GSA looked at creating an independent vehicle for cloud computing, but backed away from the idea, leaving the competition between Networx and GSA's Alliant procurement vehicle.

Agencies also have demonstrated enthusiasm for the secure Internet connections offered on Networx, which are designed to comply with the Office of Management and Budget's Trusted Internet Connection initiative. Verizon was recently awarded a contract modification, making it the third vendor to offer the service on Networx Universal, along with AT&T and Qwest Government Services.

Zeleniak said the delivery date for the secure Internet capability is in September, but the company already is fielding inquiries from agencies eager to switch to a secure connection.

"Every agency we talk to wants to discuss [secure Internet connections]; we know it's on top of their list," Zeleniak said. "We believe Trusted Internet Connections will be part of any security program put out by the new administration."

President Obama has announced that he will appoint a cybersecurity czar to lead a governmentwide approach to cybersecurity, but no one has been named yet, and few details about the job have emerged.