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Rob Davies, ViON SVP, Talks about Government Cloud Computing

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ViON solves complex enterprise problems by combining passion and agility to deliver the most effective, innovative solutions because commitment to mission success is in their DNA. One of the ways they deliver success is through ViON on Demand™, which delivers highly secure compute, network and storage capabilities delivered through on-premise private clouds.  ViON on Demand supports a customer whose business strategy is to consume IT infrastructure as a managed service. Through ViON on Demand, ViON’s customer can procure and consume a range of IT hardware and software suited to their specific needs (compute, storage, data center networking). This strategy helps them:

  • Use technology on-premise, like private Cloud;
  • Customize technology, vendor and configuration based on specific needs;
  • Scale up and down to meet demand without penalty or minimums;
  • Pay with operations dollars rather than capital expenditure;
  • Achieve best-practice, customized service-level agreements (SLAs); and
  • Enjoy 24/7 live, secure support when needed.  

The executive responsible for managing this business is Rob Davies, Vice President ViON on Demand.  I had the opportunity to meet him at the ViON headquarters building in Herndon, Virginia for a discussion on government cloud computing.

Kevin:Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you about cloud in the US government.  To start off, what is your position here at ViON?

Rob: Thank you Kevin for coming out to visit us.  I am the Executive Vice President of Operations here at ViON and also have the responsibility of managing our On Demand cloud solutions.

Kevin: Being responsible for ViON’s cloud computing solutions seems like a pretty demanding task. How is that going?

Rob: Cloud computing in the US Government marketplace holds great promise, but yes, it also presents a demanding challenge. As you know, the US Federal marketplace has been a budget
constricted environment for quite a few years but that environment is actually good for cloud computing because it has forced agencies into looking for better ways to do information technology. Here at ViON, we’ve actually benefitted from that.

Kevin: That sounds pretty interesting.  Can you please elaborate on that a bit?

Rob: Sure. In observing agencies that are looking to find better and more efficient ways to do information technology, they have really needed to figure out how to use cloud within their existing organizational structure.  This is more difficult than it appears on the surface because government IT organizations are typically structured around a horizontal view of an IT infrastructure.  That means that all their processes and decisions are aligned with IT operational layers. The server team makes decisions on servers, the storage team makes decisions on storage, the application team makes decisions on applications and so forth. This organization also drives budget allocations and decision along those same operational layers. This horizontal viewpoint doesn’t work well with cloud computing because budget decisions need to be more aligned with mission, workload and application characteristics. To do this properly the organization needs to adopt a more vertical view of the IT infrastructure.

Kevin: How have ViON’s cloud computing customers dealt with this problem?

Rob: Though our professional services support, ViON has been able to help its customers elevate their organizational viewpoint. This has enabled them to figure out how to use cloud effectively without changing their existing organization. In a way we have collaborated with our customers and now know how to do cloud within this traditional componentized organizational structure.

Kevin: How is that done? Many have said that cloud computing is nearly impossible without changing existing policies or getting FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) waivers.

Rob: The first step in the transition is to get legacy infrastructure people more familiar with cloud consumption models. You also need to move them away from a focus on the technical specification of the infrastructure. In my experience, the expertise of government IT professionals is very high.  The only issue is that organizationally, they are forced to see cloud as an extension of the infrastructure component that lies within their responsibility. Storage people can deal with storage-as-a-service but they have no authority to link a server or application with that storage. Once the infrastructure team collaborate with a vertical viewpoint they can then builds a common lexicon for the solution that’s being design. This, in turn, will drive organizational changes that are friendlier to more efficient consumption-based IT service models.

Kevin: What about the budgeting models? Aren’t they still based on IT components?

Rob: Yes and most federal agencies are way behind in that area. It is, however, a bit easier in the DoD because of the use of working capital funds. This budgeting construct was designed as a means for dealing with the wide variability of the DoD mission. This budgeting variability can be equally used for cloud services. There is no widespread corollary on the civilian side. Civilian agencies have a willingness to adopt cloud, but the acquisition challenges and the lack of a working capital construct make it more difficult.

Kevin: So how can ViON help agencies get over this hurdle?

Rob: ViON has experience in helping agencies learn how to manage a traditional fixed budget in an environment that has variable purchase requirements. Options include ordering agreements and blanket purchase agreement. These have more funding flexibility than direct award contracts. We can also determine appropriate workloads for cloud migration, help in analyzing the budget process around those specific workloads and assist with documenting and forecasting capacity needs. Although peak capacity requirements will certainly be in the budget, that money may come back if the capacity is not actually needed.
https://www.vion.com/Agile-Cloud-Solution/Agile-Cloud-Platform.aspx

Kevin:Are you arguing for changes in government procurement rules?

Rob: Not really. Procurement rules don’t need to be changed but more flexibility needs to be allowed.  COTRs and Contracting Officers just need better tools for purchasing cloud. For example, an ability to pool funds across infrastructure or multiple mission areas would go a long way.

Kevin: You’re really arguing then for a more holistic view and increased visibility of IT within the government. Neither one of those are part of government culture. How do you see this happening?

Rob: Change is hard and cloud computing defines a hard change. To be successful in this, government agencies need to tap the knowledge of government IT infrastructure professionals and make them an integral part of the process. Those professionals know their agency’s mission and how best to manage this change. Unfortunately, in the past, they have been the last to know about an application or system was being funded and built. The government can absolutely do it but very strict restrictions on how money can be spent may need to be changed. Property and use tax payments are a case in point.

Current tax payment rules are driven by ownership. When the government uses cloud services the CSP (Cloud Service Provider) stills owns the equipment and the FAR is silent on this type of situation. Restriction on the use of different colors of money may also need to be addressed. Today the CIO doesn’t have any budget authority. FITARA (Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act) was designed to help in this area and we can only hope that Congress can see a way forward in helping the CIO get away from management through influence towards being able to manage with authority.

Some of the new vehicles are more structured for cloud with dedicated acquisition shops. This will help the rest of the acquisition community come along.

Kevin:  Any advice for those CIO trying to tackle the challenge of transitioning to the cloud?

Rob: We’ve coached our customers to look at the total acquisition process. When initiating a consumption based IT contract, allow for time to transition from one contractor to another. Since the vendor needs to be able to make and recoup their investments, contracts tend to be longer and the government needs to be able to scale up with a new vendor slowly. This approach maximizes the value to all parties.  A total acquisition process view also reduces contract churn, contract related technical evaluations and reduces overall acquisition cost.

Kevin:  In wrapping up, what is the health of cloud in the government. What is your prognosis with respect to the future?

Rob: I am really optimistic. It will take a lot more time but we will get there. Mainframe won’t go away, neither will cloud. We will get there because there are more offerings in the market, more variety, more flexibly, better acquisition models and cross pollination across the government.

Kevin: Thanks Rob.


Rob Davies explains ViON On Demand

( This content is being syndicated through multiple channels. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of GovCloud Network, GovCloud Network Partners or any other corporation or organization.)

Cloud Musings

( Thank you. If you enjoyed this article, get free updates by email or RSS – © Copyright Kevin L. Jackson 2015)

Follow me at https://Twitter.com/Kevin_Jackson
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