Small N.C. cloud company nabs first FedRAMP security certification


Any federal agency can now tap Autonomic Resources’ remote networks without testing security.

Autonomic Resources, a small business in North Carolina, has earned the first-ever security certification to install cloud services governmentwide. The General Services Administration, the government’s purchasing agency, stuck to a self-imposed year-end deadline for issuing the seal of approval under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP.

FedRAMP is a cost-cutting venture aimed at doing away with the need to check the safety of cloud services, if the products already have cleared the program’s one-size-fits-all security audit.

“By using FedRAMP and eliminating redundant security assessments, agencies can save an estimated $200,000 per authorization,” Dave McClure, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said in a statement Thursday.

Since June, when GSA began accepting applicants, about 80 companies have expressed interest in hiring government-selected assessors to test their cloud services. The Cary, N.C.-based Autonomic began the process in July, according to the company’s website. Veris Group performed the assessment.

As expected, the first company to win acceptance is a small entity. A major time-factor for approvals is the size of the data enterprise. Auditors must inspect all potential entry points for threats. The larger and more complex the data enterprise, the harder the task. Microsoft expects at least one of its products to be approved by April 2013, corporate officials said earlier this month.

One concern about outsourcing computing operations is outages. For example, during much of Christmas Eve, families nationwide lost access to Netflix on-demand streaming video when an Amazon data center supporting the company suffered technical problems.

The Autonomic offering certified this month is an infrastructure-as-a-service product, which provides managed and unmanaged remote machines, according to company officials. Its webmail service is undergoing the approval process now, officials added.

“The timeliness of our FedRAMP certification will assist federal and state government address serious needs to implement more cost-effective, elastic computing platforms, and reduce their information technology spending. We are fully aware of the fiscal challenges our customers face and are uniquely positioned to be key to the solution going forward,” Autonomic founder and president John Keese said in a statement.

The FedRAMP seal -- an actual logo companies can stamp on brochures -- essentially guarantees a cloud service complies with U.S. laws for guarding federal information. It is not applicable to classified or high-security systems. GSA officials said Thursday they anticipate more certifications to be awarded in early 2013, “and announcements will be made as the authorizations are granted.”

Certified companies are required to conduct “continuous monitoring” of threats to their data centers. The frequency and mechanisms for reporting risks to agencies are still evolving, according to federal officials. Autonomic's website states its continuous monitoring program consists of “ongoing updates” to a system security plan, a security assessment report, and other FedRAMP accreditation documents.

Traditional on-site data centers update agencies in near-real time about threats using sensors and software that feed risk-level reports directly to agencies. That is not the case with cloud data centers yet.

The question now is whether agencies will trust these new certifications enough to plug in the products. McClure told prospective contractors a year ago, "the true test will be when you see agencies start to leverage authorizations of other agencies."

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