Nebula Launches – the US Government Gets Cloud Computing Right

If an individual can create a free email account in a matter of minutes, and a small business can create its entire financial system online in a couple minutes, then why must the government spend billions of dollars building (similar) systems that may not be sensitive in nature?

Vivek Kundra, the US Government’s Federal Chief Information Officer, wants to know why the commercial world can take advantage of applications and services available online through software as a service (SaaS) companies and cloud computing companies, while the US Government manages:

  • > 10,679 individual data centers
    • Including 8x GSA data centers
    • 23 Dept of Homeland Security data centers
  • 300 million customers
  • $76 billion annual IT budget
  • $19 billion in IT infrastructure

Vivek Kundra presented these questions, following with a high level briefing on how the US government will leverage cloud computing and modern Platform (PaaS), Infrastructure (IaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) technology to bring the US Government’s IT infrastructure up to world standards, and then exceed those standards to gain leadership in the world’s efficient use of technologies.

And he gets it. The briefing, at NASA Ames Research center, presented a project being managed by NASA Ames to build a model for bringing the US government into the next millennium of information and communications technology. The project, codename “Nebula,” will focus on a number of areas, including:

  • Consolidation of data center infrastructure
  • Development of new technologies such as containerized data centers
  • Massive sharing of compute and data center resource capacity for unclassified government agency use
  • Reduction of carbon footprint through better resource consolidation and reducing number of individual data centers
  • Faster provisioning of SaaS applications throughout government agencies

Kundra gave the example that in normal conditions it takes around 6 months from a user requesting a new application till the time it is delivered, at an annual cost of nearly $2.5 million. With SaaS and cloud computing the same application should take one day to provision, and reduce the annual fees for operating the application to around $800k.

2010 Marks the Beginning

The government, with the Nebula project will use the remainder of 2010 developing and executing pilot cloud-based projects, including deployment of containerized data centers. The prime user interface to these projects will be at, which will support government agency users in quickly requesting, approving, and deploying SaaS applications for government agencies.

NIST Definition of Cloud Computing:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. (National Institue of Standards and Technology/NIST)

Commercial companies will work with the government and Nebula project to certify their applications to meet strict government privacy and data security standards. The general services Administration (GSA) will also work with commercial companies to develop a common standard for government certification. Today, many individual agencies have different set of certification requirements for software and hardware, requiring commercial companies to go through extended and costly certifications to meet the needs of different agencies.

The GSA will work with Nebula to create a single government standard certification which will be a one-stop-shop for commercial companies. Once passing the GSA standard certification, commercial companies will then be able to bid against all other agencies without concern of going through a second, third, or more additional certifications.

Everything mentioned in the briefing leads us to believe the US government, under the leadership of Vivek Kundra, is starting to “get it.” The briefing is available via YouTube (another application listed as being government and cloud friendly), is very well produced, informative, and gives us hope our government, at least within our ICT leadership, is going to aggressively exploit cloud technologies.

By 2011 each government agency will be required to consider virtualization and data center consolidation is all of their IT budget planning. Might be tough, might take a bit of time, but will definitely result in both a stronger government, and a more efficient ICT infrastructure supporting the government.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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