A Farmer-Focused Agency Wants to Ditch Data Centers Completely


"Farmers don’t care that I run a data center," an Agriculture Department chief information officer said.

Sometimes, like a sour relationship with a significant other, you just have to leave your data centers.

For the Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency, that time has arrived, according to Chief Information Officer Chad Sheridan.

“I don’t want to have any,” Sheridan said Tuesday in a Nextgov-hosted webcast. “There is zero value in me running a federal data center. Farmers don’t care that I run a data center; they care that when the information comes in to support participation in our program, that it’s kept safe and secure.”

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The Risk Management Agency manages billions of dollars in crop insurance for farmers nationwide. Whether the integral data is housed within a legacy data center or the cloud makes little difference to farmers, Sheridan said. What matters is practicality, efficiency and ensuring the Risk Management Agency best meets its mission, and that’s largely why Sheridan is pushing for the agency to leave its data centers by late next year.

The destination? The cloud, where a growing chunk of the government is headed. The U.S. government has reduced its data center count from some 10,000 data centers to approximately 5,600 as agencies turn to cloud services to mitigate some of their legacy tech challenges.

Through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, better known as FedRAMP, Sheridan said his agency has gotten authorities to operate for cloud services in place, essentially an “on-ramp to cloud services.”

The move to cloud may not necessarily include every application, service or data set, but Sheridan said getting out of the data center business will allow the agency to focus on delivering capabilities and improvements in federal crop insurance.

And that, Sheridan said, is better for farmers.

“We’re in the business of serving America’s farmers ranchers and rural economies, not in the business of running an IT system,” Sheridan said.

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