The General Services Administration’s 18F digital services team has entered the highly competitive race to provide cloud services to federal agencies.
The team introduced Friday its platform-as-a-service offering Cloud.gov, which agencies can use to develop secure and compliant applications in the cloud with limited procedural work and without having to stand up a private cloud infrastructure.
Like many of the tools 18F has brought to market, Cloud.gov was built as a tool the team could use to support its own projects.
Bret Mogilefsky, the product lead for Cloud.gov, told FedScoop that 18F’s thought process was: “Rather than have this [cloud service] overhead incurred on every team to kind of understand this regulatory framework and build services and manage them and document them in exactly the right way… Let’s invest our efforts into a platform-as-a-service where we can encapsulate that best practice, so that reduces the number of people [that] have to do the work and also makes it so we can tackle the authority to operate procedure in a sort of more centralized and productive way.”
Within 18F, it worked, making teams “as nimble as they want to be and need to be,” Mogilefsky said. So they decided to extend it to other agencies to approach the “crazy regulatory framework” that’s “kind of haphazard across all the different agencies” in a smarter and more “disruptive” way, all the while complying with the requirements of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program — FedRAMP.
Currently, 18F is working with a handful of agencies to prove this model can be scaled across government.
“It’s kind of a staged rollout thing where we’re figuring out who is ready to make use of it now and give us the next set of feedback, and once those bumps are smoothed out, we take the next level out and the next level out and keep doing it,” Mogilefsky said.
It’s also totally open source — code, configuration, security and all. So if an agency would rather pilot a similar model on its own, it’s free to pull from the Cloud.gov source, or add to 18F’s deployment. Even citizen security experts interested in federal cybersecurity can audit the model’s system security plans if they wish.
“That will hopefully set the example and show that it can be done,” 18F software engineer Diego Lapiduz told FedScoop.
Vying for cloud market share?
With the launch of Cloud.gov, private cloud vendors might see 18F as a new competitor on the market with an inside advantage, but Mogilefsky said that’s not the case.
“They may see it as a threat,” he said. “And if so, I think it’s a shame.”
This platform is meant more as a proof of concept, and to lower the cost and frustration many agencies experience in moving to the cloud, he said — to act as a “government innovation platform,” as its landing page says. The team said it’s still looking at pricing models, but hopes to use a cost recovery model while passing the infrastructure fees along to the agencies.
“Fundamentally what it’s doing is taking things that should be commodities — that cloud operations know-how — and making them not an issue,” Mogilefsky said. “The goal of doing this is not to capture market share or take over the government — the goal is to enable the government to work more efficiently and do more innovative stuff.”
18F built Cloud.gov on open-source platform-as-a-service Cloud Foundry, which supports a variety of cloud service providers. Currently, the platform can only support FISMA-low and FISMA-moderate applications, which limits the scale of the projects it can work with.
For that reason, Mogilefsky said, it shouldn’t be difficult for cloud vendors to differentiate their services by their service-level agreements, higher security standards or managed services they can provide at much larger scale. And leveraging Cloud Foundry, agencies introduced to the cloud by Cloud.gov can jump to a different vendor to support their growing needs.
“I see this as us really seeding the ground for them … it sort of just makes a least-common denominator which they can then innovate on top of it,” he said.