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USDA Certified: Agency Now a Bona Fide Cloud Provider

July 25, 2013 No Comments

The United States Department of Agriculture is typically associated with, among other services, certifying beef or organic products. Now the agency can add another type of certification to its wall: cloud computing.

The USDA has been certified to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platforms as a Service (PaaS) under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, a rigorous, security-approval program overseen by the General Services Administration. The USDA now offers FedRAMP-certified cloud services to other federal agencies, as well as to state and local government, via its National Information Technology Center.

The USDA is essentially running a private cloud, which is an infrastructure operated for a single organization, such as a specific department of the federal government, that is managed internally or by a third party. This is an impressive undertaking for an agency more accustomed to concerns over hoof and mouth disease, not racks and servers.

Taking on a private cloud project requires a significant level and degree of engagement to virtualize a business environment, and requires an organization to re-evaluate decisions about existing resources. When properly implemented, it can improve efficiencies, but every step in the project must address many factors, including how to prevent serious vulnerabilities.

The USDA’s initiative is the latest example of an emerging cloud model, called shared clouds, in which one government agency gets the most from its data center resources by making them available to other agencies, according to an article on The USDA offers virtualized desktops and servers, storage, networking, databases, and content management as cloud services.

Shared clouds are the result of two federal mandates that have a natural synergy: the Cloud Computing Strategy, released in 2011, and the IT Shared Services Strategy, introduced last year by Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel. The combination of those two policies should lead to increased efficiencies and cost savings by consolidating usage on shared cloud infrastructure.

In the IT Shared Services Strategy architecture, cloud computing is a service-delivery layer. The strategy requires agencies to take an inventory of their IT assets and develop a catalog of shared services. It also calls for consolidation of commodity IT services such as email, PCs and human resources systems.

Shared clouds are the latest manifestation of VanRoekel’s “do more with less” mantra. The feds were spurred into action on shared services after a review of 7,000 federal IT investments for fiscal 2013 revealed duplication of IT systems and “billions of dollars” in potential savings.

In addition to the USDA, the departments of Energy and Homeland Security and the Defense Information Systems Agency have implemented shared clouds. More shared clouds will likely be rolled out across government as other agencies move in this direction.

Shared clouds aren’t just for federal agencies; local and state governments also are deploying them, too. In Minnesota, the Local Government Information Systems Association (LOGIS) provides shared services, including cloud services, to 45 cities and counties.

And the Texas Department of Information Resources offers shared cloud services to state agencies, including the Texas Education Agency, Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Department of Public Safety.

Patrick Burke

Patrick Burke is a writer and editor based in the greater New York area and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting

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