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 SIN Continues to Rain Success

Posted by Mary Davie
on September 7, 2016

As I reported back in January (The Cloud SIN: Making Sense of Cloud Options, Jan. 21, 2016), we successfully implemented our Cloud Special Item Number (SIN) 132-40 on IT Schedule 70 last year. We added the Cloud SIN to make it even easier for agencies to find cloud-specific solutions, and I’m happy to report that the SIN continues to see notable growth in both customer and industry participation with dozens of solicitations and 23 vendors adopting the SIN.

The Cloud SIN allows us to centralize and streamline access to cloud computing services that help meet federal, state, and local governments’ ever-evolving needs. Agencies can now clearly distinguish cloud from non-cloud IT products and services in order to get to the right solution quickly. All of the cloud solutions are organized in focused sub-categories that are defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The SIN also provides our industry partners with the enhanced ability to market distinctive cloud computing solutions and offerings.

Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground

Offerings through the Cloud SIN continue to become more robust, now with 23 industry partners qualified to offer solutions through the SIN. This is further fueled by federal agencies as several have issued nearly 70 solicitations against it.

One of the latest solicitations comes from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as an enterprise-wide Request for Quotation (RFQ) with a contract value of $1.6 billion over a ten-year period (RFQ HSHQDC-16-Q-00195). In addition to DHS, several other agencies have also submitted Cloud SIN solicitations including; the U.S. Air Force, Department of Justice, Veterans Affairs, Army, and the Department of Interior.

The SIN is popular because agencies can easily solicit from a vetted field of supplier offerings, determined by GSA to fit five essential cloud characteristics:

  • on-demand self-service,
  • broad network access,
  • resource pooling,
  • rapid elasticity,
  • and measured service.

Learning More About Cloud

For more resources on the Cloud SIN, including guidance for transitioning your company’s services onto the SIN or how to use the SIN to build a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA), please visit our Cloud SIN page.

Our Cloud team also regularly hosts informational webinars to discuss our whole suite of cloud solutions. The most recent one, How to Acquire Cloud and Make it Secure, featured Ashley Mahan, GSA FedRAMP Agency Evangelist. Ashley discussed FedRAMP and how it applies to the Federal Community and Industry. In the same webinar, ITS’s Skip Jentsch provided an overview of the cloud computing services we offer, and demonstrated how these acquisition vehicles can save time, money, and risk associated with procuring cloud services.

Check out the slide deck on our LinkedIn page and stay tuned to our Twitter feed @GSA_ITS for future events.

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Defining the Future of Government IT

Posted by Mary Davie
on June 18, 2012

Last week, GSA had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable in Washington, DC that brought together federal CIOs, CTOs, and thought leaders in technology from the public and private sectors. Together, they discussed the future of government IT, and how agencies should respond to shrinking budgets and increased expectations for workplace efficiency.

Owing to the growing disparity between shrinking budgets and the need for emerging technologies, agency CIOs are under increasing pressure to do more with less. This presents a significant challenge and a unique opportunity for GSA to bring agencies together to identify major IT challenges, share industry best practices, and develop innovative acquisition solutions to move government IT forward.

Mission-enhancing technologies

Participants at the roundtable identified the need for mission-enhancing technologies such as mobility, cloud, video, and agency-specific mobile applications to help agencies achieve improved workforce productivity. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has led the charge in defining a strategy for mobility and cloud through the 25-point IT reform plan, “cloud-first” policy, and Digital Government Strategy; however, strategies for both video and apps are still in their infancy.

These initiatives, combined with the current budget environment, have created a climate favorable to adopting mission-enhancing technologies. Implementation has encountered challenges, however, because resources are locked in legacy systems, and agencies frequently duplicate efforts to meet similar requirements. In fact, several CIOs at the roundtable reported a belief that infrastructure requirements are more common than dissimilar across agencies. Participants expressed interest in moving more basic requirements such as backbone networks to a service-based model.

In order to move government forward, agencies must find ways to shift their resources from legacy systems to emerging technologies, and deal with security and the consumerization of IT, while eliminating duplication by transitioning to government-wide shared services. The move to shared services will reduce costs by eliminating redundancy and leveraging the buying power of the federal government.

The industry participants are using IT as a strategic business asset to build competitive advantage through human resources, reduction in space/facilities, improving business processes, and enabling information sharing and mobility.

How GSA is stepping up to the plate

Roundtable participants frequently cited GSA as a key partner in helping to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency through programs like the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which was launched last week. FedRAMP provides agencies with a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring by utilizing a “do once, use many” approach that simplifies the security approval process for cloud providers, thereby saving agencies precious time and money.

We have also helped agencies meet government-wide requirements through our Networx contract that has resulted in a savings of about $7.7 billion since 1999 as compared to commercial telecommunications prices.

Agencies are asking GSA to step up to the plate by leading the shift to mission-enhancing technologies. FedRAMP and Networx are two examples, but there is still work to be done. Government must continue working with agencies and industry to define requirements and develop IT acquisition solutions that enable agencies to get more for their mission. Meetings like last week’s roundtable help position GSA as a leader in driving that process.

Do you have an idea of how government can help eliminate duplication and leverage requirements? Post in the comments section below or follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.

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