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Public Sector IT and the Winter at Valley Forge

One of the most well-known narratives of the American Revolutionary War is the harsh winter suffered by General George Washington and his colonial soldiers at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Troops were under-supplied, their uniforms were threadbare, and many suffered illness and disease from the brutal conditions.

However, the American colonies generally were not starved for resources. Travel routes were open, and food, clothing and ammunition existed across the colonies in relative abundance. One of the major challenges facing the fledgling U.S. government was the inability to manage a standardized supply chain. Resources were available to those early colonists, but were inaccessible due to ineffective procurement models. Bureaucracy, as much as anything, contributed to the suffering at Valley Forge.

In reading the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy [pdf] released last week by U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, one can’t help but conclude that U.S. government IT faces its own “Valley Forge” moment in the winter of 2011, a quarter-millennium later.

Kundra’s team describes a harsh landscape in which IT systems are obsolete by the time they finish their implementation cycle and duplicative systems are deployed, along with duplicative support frameworks for data protection, monitoring and service management.

Many federal IT contracts seem to follow a “means justify the end” management style – a grand design approach worth millions of dollars is presumed to be worthwhile, otherwise the agency wouldn’t have spent tax dollars on the assets in the first place.

Starting in 2011, the U.S. CIO now looks to cloud deployment models – public, private and hybrid – as the first choice when considering IT systems infrastructure for appropriately categorized workloads.

The U.S. federal plan addresses topics such as portfolio assessment, cloud readiness and ongoing program governance, urging federal CIOs to start thinking in terms of services rather than assets.

Several other points in the strategy document stand out:

  • Clear roles and responsibilities over federal cloud IT strategy are published and explained. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology owns standards and plays an architecture role.
  • Cloud service models can be pre-assessed against security standards. Previously, each discrete system had to go through an audit. The new “approve once and use often” approach allows agencies to compress procurement cycles and shorten implementation timeframes.
  • Agency constituents are challenged to truly innovate for the public good. IT infrastructure should be standardized and deployed in a consistent cloud model, and agencies must be more creative to support their mission.

Clear roles and responsibilities, rapid provisioning capabilities and a mandate for innovation – these are characteristics commonly found in startups or incubation groups. Federal IT under Kundra’s leadership is attempting to capture more of this entrepreneurial spirit, to support agency missions of delivering taxpayer value in ways never before achievable.

At Savvis, we share this vision for government cloud computing and public sector innovation. We are investing heavily in this sector, and have seen some early successes:

  • In October 2010, Savvis was awarded a contract by the U.S. General Services Administration to provide cloud computing to government organizations. The U.S. CIO specifically referenced this contract as an example of forward-looking cloud procurement models.
  • In February 2011, Savvis announced the launch of its Symphony Virtual Private Datacenter (VPDC) cloud platform in the Washington, D.C., metro area. This platform continues to progress through its security assessment against Federal Information Security Management Act requirements, and is a valuable tool for federal agencies implementing cloud strategies.
  • Savvis continues its cloud deployments in countries such as Singapore and the United Kingdom. The United States is not the only nation with an aggressive government cloud computing strategy – many government organizations around the world are looking to cloud and shared-service models to transform their IT strategies.

If this is indeed our global “Valley Forge” winter, then all cloud computing leaders should not merely take notice of the trend, but rather consider it their patriotic duty to help transform the supply chain, improve government service and revolutionize public sector IT.

For more information, contact [email protected].


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