Jul 28 2010

Data on Tap

Unlimited access. That may sound like you’re getting a backstage pass to a concert — or, in Washington, going beyond the velvet ropes to the back halls of the White House. But in federal IT shops, when it comes to unlimited access, the idea really keys in on data: how feds can tap it, use it, store it — from any device and from anywhere in the world.

Such access has been the driving force behind one of the oldest cloud offerings in the government (actually, one of the oldest just about anywhere): the private cloud infrastructure built and run by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The aim is to let Defense Department employees log in from any machine in the world and access their files and applications. “It promotes net-centricity and speeds development. It reduces the time from idea and program initiation to operational capability on the networks,” says DISA Chief Technology Officer David Mihelcic.

In the federal government, the idea of cloud computing really represents the latest evolution of a notion that agencies have long focused on: how to harness vast processing hubs scattered throughout the country — even around the globe — to serve users who are scattered just as widely. It made sense for DISA to expand into the cloud.

Building on a worldwide infrastructure of DOD megacenters, DISA has created a sweep of offerings to support both warfighting and back-office technology needs that rely on a utility computing model.

Although cloud adoption in government will take many forms and is far from its zenith, it’s definitely trending upward, says Dave McClure, associate administrator for citizen services and innovative technologies at the General Services Administration. “In the next two years, there will be continuous rollout, acceptance and use of cloud computing.”

It’s likely that a mix of cloud options — private, hybrid and public — will continue to proliferate in government. Learn how these approaches are playing out for agencies in our cover story, “The Many Faces of Cloud

Growth Spurt

Ensuring data access is a conundrum for most agencies, whether or not they’ve begun to use cloud computing. The large size of data repositories, even in small agencies, has driven the move toward virtualization and networked storage. Case in point: the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority.

Although relatively small in federal enterprise terms, the Oklahoma healthcare provider’s data demands loom large. It has moved to storage area networks to manage a data boom driven mainly by electronic health records.

Plus, it has begun a major green effort. “We want to convert a lot of paper forms to electronic forms, and that requires a lot of storage,” notes IT Director Dwane Sorrells.

Large agencies face similar issues. And even as data continues to grow, the pressure is on from the administration to consolidate data center operations. Read about how agencies succeed in taking command of their storage services in “Rite of Passage."

Another intriguing “access” initiative is under way in government involving a handful of agencies working to create safe virtual worlds where feds can collaborate and interact in 3D environments.

“Virtual worlds technology really builds presence, and that presence piece is big,” says Col. John Thompson, future learning advisor for the Air Education and Training Command. “You start feeling like you’re a part of the team rather than part of the teleconference, and there’s a difference.” To get a peek into the Virtual Government Project, read “The Next Frontier.”

In this issue, you will find other articles with a focus on data as well: sharing in Office 2010, capture via enterprise scanners, transparency based on data provenance and presentation through digital signage.

Ryan Petersen