CBP to Process Billions in Trade Revenue Using IBM Cloud

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The “mainframe-as-a-service” model allowed the agency to migrate one of its more resource-intensive processes to the cloud.

Customs and Border Protection recently migrated the tech it uses to process billions of dollars in annual trade revenue to a cloud platform hosted by IBM.

In June, the agency moved the collections processing functions of its Automated Commercial System to IBM’s SmartCloud for Government, abandoning the legacy data centers that hosted the tech in the past. Using the system, which tracks, controls and processes all goods imported into the U.S., CBP collected more than $41 billion in customs duties in 2018. The Trump administration’s recent tariffs could drive that figure above $70 billion this year.

According to CBP, the migration is expected to cut costs and further shrink its physical IT infrastructure, a long-standing goal for government leaders that agencies have struggled to achieve. 

“This will allow CBP to use mainframe capabilities based on a utility-cost model,” Phil Landfried, assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Information Technology, said in a statement. “This reduces capital expenditures and supports re-investment in cloud capabilities.”

Many of the government’s previous cloud migrations involved email systems, public-facing platforms and other relatively low-lift services, but this “mainframe-as-a-service” model lets agencies also migrate their more complex processes, according to Sam Gordy, general manager for IBM’s federal business. Using the IBM platform, CBP can still access the same computing capabilities it had before, but the mainframe will reside in IBM’s infrastructure instead of agency data centers, Gordy told Nextgov.

“Things like this ACS system [need] … the technological capability of a mainframe computer to function properly,” he said. “Now you can do that.”

CBP is among the first Homeland Security Department components to move mainframe capabilities to a cloud environment, an agency spokesperson told Nextgov.

Officials will also be able to link the IBM platform to the various other cloud systems operating in its hybrid environment, Gordy said. SmartCloud for Government received FedRAMP certification in 2013, and today the platform hosts services for multiple federal agencies, including the Army

The announcement comes as CBP and other DHS components double down on expanding their cloud environment and growing opposition from the tech industry.

In July, CBP began looking for vendors to stitch together its sprawling cloud ecosystem, which includes multiple public, private and hybrid cloud platforms hosted by a variety of different vendors. Earlier this summer, the Homeland Security Department announced plans to expand its biometric identification capabilities using Amazon Web Services’ GovCloud.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the timing and functionality of the cloud migration.