Cloud Empowerment at USAID: A 10-Year Success Story

Posted by Bill Zielinski
on October 3, 2019

When it comes to information technology modernization efforts, agencies have to develop holistic strategies that match their evolving needs without compromising their ability to carry out their mission. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) mission is to help others, but when it came to technological transformation, USAID had to start by helping itself.

Let’s take a look at how USAID became the vanguard for smart cloud adoption in support of a complex, global mission.

A Legacy of Innovation

For nearly a decade, USAID has strategically deployed cloud technology to enable and scale its operations both at home and abroad. Working in some of the more challenging locations around the world, USAID often operates in low network connectivity bandwidth environments that present their own unique security vulnerabilities.

To operate in these harsh operational conditions, USAID adopted cloud technology early. In 2010 they moved to cloud-based email, messaging, and collaboration tools. In 2012, USAID completed nearly all of the goals of the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) when it consolidated to a single enterprise data center.

Data Consolidated, Optimized, and Secured

Most recently in 2018, USAID successfully migrated the enterprise data center to a hybrid cloud solution with full disaster recovery capability. The new USAID Enterprise Data Center/Disaster Recovery (EDC/DR) solution provides government Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) as well as redundancy for USAID’s network and business-critical systems.

USAID can now use more modern technology like scalable, on-demand resources; no restrictions for memory, processing, and storage; and the ability to restore data in several hours versus days or weeks. Using tagging in the cloud environments will enhance USAID’s ability to comply with the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) and Technology Business Management reporting requirements. Finally, the cloud solution is FedRAMP-authorized, ensuring the new infrastructure services meet rigorous security standards.

Working with GSA

USAID used IT Schedule 70 for its EDC/DR infrastructure acquisition.

USAID sought to acquire public and government IaaS as standardized, highly automated infrastructure services owned by cloud service providers (CSPs) and offered to USAID on demand.

Before the award, the USAID engineering team performed an analysis of alternatives (AoA) backed by thorough market research. The AoA recommended a hybrid cloud solution to meet USAID’s EDC/DR requirements.

A high-level design that could connect to both public and government IaaS CSP was proposed in the AoA by the engineering team. It suggested two co-locations on opposite ends of the country to ensure operational and geophysical redundancy. A RFQ (Request for Quote) guided by the AoA and EDC/DR requirements was released for competition. The acquisition was structured so that the co-location IaaS solution was purchased as a commodity owned by the CSP. In this modern virtual data center, USAID leverages high availability system components as a Disaster Recovery solution without additional costs.

Solution Acquired, Results Analyzed

The result is a fully scalable virtual data center, with dynamic policy-driven services and improved performance. All of this comes at a 30% lower cost for operations and maintenance.

With cloud, USAID now can use multiple data centers’ hosting systems, services, applications, and storage without relying on any particular geographic location.

This is critical given that USAID leads the U.S. government’s international development and disaster assistance work in over 80 countries around the globe. These efficiency gains have enabled reinvestment in more advanced and innovative technologies. USAID has matured to being 100% cloud-enabled, using all service models. With no legacy systems to support, the agency can move to new, modern solutions in a much more agile fashion than other federal departments that are weighed down by aging systems and infrastructure.

What Does Your Mission Require?

As a facilitator of USAID’s cloud accomplishments, GSA is here to help your agency use the cloud to achieve its long-term mission and strategic goals. This includes aligning with federal mandates like the new CloudSmart Strategy and leveraging government-wide tools to modernize your IT infrastructure.

To help discover ways that GSA can enable your agency’s mission through cloud, contact cloudinfo@gsa.gov, visit our Cloud Information Center at gsa.gov/cic, or use our IT Solutions Navigator to find the vehicle that’s right for you.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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Cloud and Data Center Consolidation – Bringing together the perfect couple

on February 13, 2013

NOTE: Mary Davie is serving as the Acting Commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). Her Deputy, Kevin Youel Page, has assumed the role of Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Integrated Technology Service (ITS) during this period.

As we move towards Cupid’s day, I thought it was appropriate to highlight the great work GSA is doing to nurture the budding relationship between Cloud Technology and Data Center Consolidation.

Over the past year, GSA partnered with 11 federal agencies to form an OMB sponsored working group–for a little couple’s therapy–to bridge the gap between the two. The team also engaged significant participation from numerous partners from our Alliant  GWAC industry group.

The goal of this working group was to develop five standardized Statement of Objective (SOO) templates for cloud migrations of applications and services modeled upon processes established by the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, with the objective of allowing agencies to “plug in” at any phase of the effort:  enterprise discovery, migration planning, migration, and responsible asset disposal.

By maximizing the power of these contract-agnostic SOOs for Cloud Migration Services, agencies can more easily and efficiently move legacy systems to the cloud and better plan for future development of new cloud applications and strategies.

This allows agencies to realize cost savings more quickly through increased acquisition efficiency, agility, and innovation.  It also decreases the time needed to retire duplicative or inefficient data centers.

As the federal government is navigating its way through the cloud, the effort to migrate services and applications to the cloud sometimes has felt like a rough first date. With cloud efforts taking place independently, the federal government has been missing significant opportunities to leverage best practices, and lessons learned. By bringing together federal cloud leaders and industry experts, we can work together to help solve these issues while saving time and reducing costs to the federal government.

Bringing these two initiatives closer together is a critical step towards a sustainable government. It allows agency CIOs to save money and focus on mission-enhancing technologies by shifting IT investments to more efficient computing platforms, accelerating data center consolidation, and clearly aligning data center consolidation with cloud computing.

Just like Cupid’s bow, our goal is to help government realize that we are better together than apart.

I encourage anyone preparing a cloud acquisition to make use of these documents as well as the programs and expertise GSA has to offer. If you have any questions about these documents or acquiring cloud, feel free to comment below or reach out to our cloud team at CloudPMO@gsa.gov.

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IT and Change Management in the Federal Workplace

Posted by Mary Davie
on May 1, 2012

Now that I’ve passed the one-year mark in writing this blog, I can look back and see what a tremendous opportunity this has been. I’ve had the chance to comment on how IT can help make government more efficient and sustainable, address the potential cost savings of IT procurement, and explain how government can achieve these savings by adopting new IT delivery models such as cloud computing and shared services.

One area that’s often overlooked during this time of change and technological innovation is the impact new technology has on federal workers. To achieve the positive effects I’ve been discussing, government leaders need to keep our entire workforce engaged with new technology. At GSA, we’ve made great progress modernizing our technology and preparing our employees to use it.

The benefits of workplace innovation

We are beginning another technology sea change with the transition to mobile government. Mobile government will be more mission-capable and responsive to the needs of the taxpayers. That’s because mobility connects employees with each other and releases them from traditional, static office space, enabling work from anywhere, at any time. Embracing mobile technology allows government to eliminate redundant systems, consolidate office space, be more sustainable, and increase the productivity of our workforce.

However, our progress should be measured by business results resulting from workers leveraging technology, not by the number of changes in and of themselves. For example, providing mobile access to employees through secure VPN and laptops is not enough. The government workforce is diverse and multi-generational, and some will have more familiarity with the technology than others. That means we need to provide training and change management that’s appropriate for employees of all backgrounds.

GSA is balancing change and engagement

GSA understands the benefits of training and enabling our employees to do more with technology. Our CIO team, led by Casey Coleman, has conducted change management programs to educate and engage employees for several new enterprise systems. For example, change management played a huge role in successfully migrating more than 17,000 GSA users from our in-house Lotus Notes e-mail system to cloud-based Google e-mail, which helped us save 50% on the cost of e-mail and decommission 45 servers.

Most recently, GSA has begun using Salesforce Chatter as an enterprise-wide internal collaboration tool. In just the past few months, Chatter has become a primary communications channel for thousands of GSA employees, enhancing the way we communicate as an agency through increased collaboration and sharing of information. We’re measuring our adoption rates for Chatter through number of posts, frequency of specific hashtags, and number of groups created. We’re finding that people across the agency can tap into expertise and knowledge in a matter of minutes in some cases and that helps us better serve our public sector partners.

GSA prepared for both Google e-mail and the Chatter rollout with mandatory online training, on-site help desks, “reverse mentoring” for our executives, and self-help videos. We also made it as simple as possible to get into these programs by using single sign-on so employees can use their existing usernames and passwords.

I invite you to share your own experiences and best practices by leaving a comment, or sending me a tweet @Marydavie.

I will also be at the annual GSA Training Conference and Expo in San Antonio from May 14-17. The EXPO is a unique opportunity to attend training and talk to GSA experts and our vendor partners about technologies like mobility, cloud computing, and cybersecurity. For more information, please visit the Expo  webpage.

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GSA Puts Sharing First

Posted by Mary Davie
on December 23, 2011

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel described his path forward for federal IT in a policy speech in Silicon Valley this October and again in the draft Federal IT Shared Services Strategy released just this month. He articulated a “Shared First” paradigm that will lead agencies to root out waste and duplication by sharing IT services, infrastructure, procurement vehicles, and best practices.

As the go-to partner for acquisition, GSA can help agencies go “Shared First”. We are ready to leverage our deep experience in working with customers across government to address their most challenging IT acquisition problems.

Shared IT services

The draft Shared Services Strategy requires agencies to move two “commodity IT services”—back-office IT services common to every agency—to a shared environment by December 31, 2012.

We have provided shared IT services to dozens of agencies over the years. For example, over 90 federal agencies use our USAccess identity management service to issue and manage their employee ID cards.

We are excited to help customers think about how to further consolidate their IT systems.

Shared infrastructure

Before the Federal Data Center Consolidation initiative, the federal government warehoused its data in over 3,000 data centers, tying up outsized amounts of capital and real estate and resulting in higher emissions.

According to VanRoekel, the federal government will close 1080 data centers by the end of 2015, with an estimated cost savings of $3 to $5 billion. GSA is working with agencies to achieve these savings by migrating to shared infrastructures through our data center services and cloud solutions.

Using a shared infrastructure also enhances service, since agencies can rapidly scale their capabilities up and down to match their mission needs, and recover more quickly after an emergency.

Shared procurement

Agencies also use GSA vehicles to minimize their contracting overhead. The State Department has done this by consolidating more than 100 existing task orders down to four through our Alliant and Alliant Small Business Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) for a secure network infrastructure.

When agencies buy alone, they also miss out on the volume discounts available when the government pools its buying power. Customers can get these kinds of discounts from the SmartBUY software program. GSA is also defining new ways for federal, state, local, and tribal government organizations to aggregate their demand by buying IT products as a commodity.

Shared best practices

GSA helps agencies use current best practices in contracting by posting sample statements of work (SOWs) for many of our contracts, such as Alliant and Connections II.

To support common standards, we aligned two GWACs (Alliant and Alliant Small Business) with the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) and Department of Defense Enterprise Architecture (DoDEA). This means agencies can more easily use past SOWs and report their IT investments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It also means that the scope of both GWACs grows and changes as vendors’ technology capabilities grow and change, without requiring a technical refresh.

Give us your feedback

I encourage everyone involved in government IT acquisition to review the federal Shared Services Strategy (PDF) and provide comments. For background, you can watch VanRoekel’s speech or read a transcript. I’d like to know how you plan to use a “Shared First” approach for your agency – please leave a comment or find me on Twitter!

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Will IT Eat Your Agency?

Posted by Mary Davie
on October 31, 2011

Last week I attended the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2011 in Orlando. What a conference! It featured great speakers and great ideas for IT, particularly government IT.

I was especially intrigued by Andrea Di Maio and Jerry Mechling’s predictions for government IT spending, because they spoke to problems GSA is already helping to solve.

Constraints on Government IT Spend

Andrea predicts that by 2013, government financial sustainability will join cost containment as a top driver and constraint for government IT spend. What did Andrea mean by “financial sustainability”, and how does it differ from cost containment? The answer is rather bleak: It’s the survival of the services we’re used to the government providing.

Jerry said IT spend will remain a greater portion of overall budgets, even as budgets shrink overall. In the past, IT investment was a “nice to have.” Now, agencies must keep a laser-like focus on their technology budget to make sure it contributes to their core mission.

Who Decides IT Spend?

Andrea also predicts that by 2014, over half of IT spend will be decided outside the IT department in at least 30% of government organizations. This prediction took me aback. If the IT department isn’t deciding what they spend on IT, who is?

One answer is industry. IT investments will be driven by changes and initiatives in the IT industry, not by IT buyers.

The other answer is tightening budgets. Agencies are considering consolidation and transition to shared services models, which will require the IT department and CIO to take on new roles to make that happen. In the near future, CIOs may need to see themselves more as “Enterprise Program Managers” than as pure CIOs.

How GSA Can Help

We have programs in place to assist agencies facing these trends:

Innovative new acquisition models. Our new IT commodity buying solution is coming online this quarter. We’re leveraging the bulk buying power of the government to offer lower prices for leading IT commodities like laptops and warranty services. We’re issuing blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) off of IT Schedule 70 to leverage existing contracts, and we’ll also be creating a more comprehensive solution that’s not limited by today’s processes and systems. From what I heard at the symposium, we‘ll need that future acquisition model yesterday.

IT consolidation. We can help agencies consolidate both their IT systems and the way they manage their IT programs. Our cloud and data center services solutions enable agencies to fulfill OMB’s Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative and Cloud First policy. In terms of IT program management, the State Department is consolidating more than 100 existing task orders down to four task orders on our Alliant GWAC.

Innovative shared services. For shared services, agencies can look to TEMS, our telecommunications expense management offering, and USAccess, which provides end-to-end identity management services to 90 agencies and over 620,000 employees. Our Assisted Acquisition Services (AAS) can also manage part or all of the IT acquisition process.

Do you agree with these predictions? What do you think will happen to government IT spending in the next few years? What do you think agencies will need to do to adapt? And how can GSA help you?

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First Steps in Sustainability: Saving the Planet and Taxpayers’ Money

Posted by Ed O’Hare
on June 8, 2010

I recently attended a GSA conference hosted by Administrator Martha Johnson designed to bring together GSA executives to discuss GSA’s sustainability plans. To prepare, we read the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Cradle to Cradle asks us to rethink commonly held beliefs, such as the idea that industrialism and nature can’t be reconciled.  Instead, we are asked to see the dichotomy as a design issue.  The authors ask us to view sustainability as a coping mechanism rather than a solution and urge us to redesign solutions to our more critical challenges.

To do so, let’s consider one of government’s bigger challenges.

The federal government is the nation’s largest consumer of energy, and information technology represents a huge part of that energy consumption.  At all levels of government, agencies are seeking  cost-effective, cutting-edge solutions to reduce their IT energy consumption, recycle IT equipment, optimize data centers, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Sustainability, in this context, is as much about saving taxpayer money as saving the planet.

In October 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, urging agencies to lead by example in using environmentally responsible products and technologies.

Our Administrator recently—and boldly—accepted that challenge, stating that “we at GSA are embracing a zero environmental footprint (ZEF) goal. We are setting our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment.”

“Zero environmental footprint is this generation’s moon shot. And so, it must be ours at GSA.” Putting someone on the moon took years of focused energy to achieve—but we did it.

Cradle to Cradle lists five guiding principles, which help us take the first steps toward meeting this challenge:

  1. Signal your intention—Administrator Johnson put the market on alert that GSA is committed to a completely new paradigm, not just incremental improvement.
  2. Restore—strive for “good growth,” not just economic growth. With GSA’s resources, we can give agencies access to cutting-edge technologies and solutions that enable the growth we need, save taxpayers money in the long run, and no longer deplete our resources.
  3. Be ready to innovate further—Innovation requires noticing signals outside of our comfort zone: from our customers, industry, the environment, and the world at large. Administrator Johnson wants us more acquainted with what our customers need, as well as more open to “feedforward” not just feedback.
  4. Understand and prepare for the learning curve—GSA continues to develop next-generation contracts like Alliant. That’s a good step, but we need to put in place practices that can evolve into the next next generation, so our contracts facilitate a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle and benefit our customers and industry partners.
  5. Exert intergenerational responsibility—Administrator Johnson is adamant that our acquisition solutions should not create problems that future generations must solve.

Implementing solutions like Green IT will enable government agencies to do more with less, while meeting government mandates.  We should aim to move beyond simply mitigating the negative consequences of our actions and to be good stewards of our fiscal and environmental resources from the start.

What kind of sustainable, green, or cradle-to-cradle initiatives are you working on?  What are you working on that involves governmental ZEF?

Please share your initiatives and ideas.  Post a comment below.  I want to learn what is happening across our government and in industry.

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