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Delivering on the promise of cloud computing takes more than a few applications hosted on a cloud. Here, five CTO leaders share their top priorities for ensuring their cloud offerings stay competitive.

From CapEx to OpEx budget model. “We’re seeing different models come out where some agencies say, ‘Not to exceed this limit,’” said Susie Adams, Microsoft’s federal chief technology officer, speaking of industry patterns as a whole.

“We recognize many agencies are ready to pay on a monthly basis, so we’re being flexible about how government agencies procure,” she said. “We’re able to accommodate the more traditional procurement methodologies even though they are purchasing cloud services.”

Federal customers also demand cloud choice. “We are starting to see agencies procure email and calendar systems today,” Adams said. “Hopefully, this time next year, it won’t be two or three agencies; it will be 15 or 20 agencies utilizing this service.”

“We also anticipate a whole set of other types of services — CRM, collaboration and content management services, for citizen-facing websites — will start to take shape and become more mainstream as well,” Adams said, citing new capabilities to Microsoft Office 365, as well as CRM Online and Microsoft InTune, as steps in that direction.

Security and mobility investment. At CACI, the two “hot areas” are geospatially enabling applications and mobile wireless capabilities, said Deb Dunie, executive vice president and chief technology officer for the professional services and IT company.

“From a geospatial discipline,” Dunie said, “we’re looking at the mission-specific applications, and how geospatial enhances some of the [Department of] Homeland Security missions through an advanced means of visualizing.” That visualization is based upon CACI’s geospatial applications, hosted in the company’s own cloud environment.

Also, a “huge priority,” Dunie said, is expansion of the company’s research and development for mobile and wireless mission capability support and cloud infrastructure security. Just as the company’s C4ISR lab is focused on mobile application development of applications hosted in a federated internal government cloud, an enterprise IT and network services lab focuses on security.

“That [lab] is looking at how we go about securing cloud applications for mobile wireless and service delivery for these solution sets in the cloud,” Dunie said.

Embracing vendor-neutral partnerships. “Partnering to deliver what customers need quickly and affordably is a positive, in our view,” said Dr. Ray Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Lockheed Martin. “Lockheed Martin is fully behind this approach to vendor-neutral partnering and solution integration.”

That focus picked up the pace several years ago. “We identified trends and anticipated the streamlining of increasingly complex systems along with the customers’ need to be agile without increasing costs,” Johnson said. “We invested in research and development projects and created key partnerships across industry to begin to develop a range of secure cloud offerings.”

That partnership has found a home in the company’s Lockheed Martin Cyber Security Alliance, which combines its domain knowledge and combined technology solutions to reduce agency costs and increase performance. Recent work includes STARFIRE, the company’s secure private mission cloud that builds on the strength of the pre-integrated technologies from Cisco, EMC and VMware and can be fully operable within weeks of arriving at a customer site.

“We believe that through partnering and innovation, and with offerings like the secure STARFIRE solution, we have addressed concerns [compliance, security requirements],” Johnson said. “By listening to our customers and working closely with our industry partners … we can deliver high-performance, low-cost cloud solutions.”

Beyond cost savings and load efficiency. Recently, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation tapped IBM to spearhead an on-premise cloud to test and develop network solutions for command and control programs and to improve communication flow among the organizational body’s 28 member nations.

“The cloud provides [NATO] a nice means to have a place to collaborate, to have common software architecture, so they can connect heterogeneous systems, and easily share data across those different coalition forces, said David McQueeney, chief technology officer for IBM’s U.S. federal government unit. The project also speaks to the need of thinking beyond cost savings and load efficiency alone.

“Are we just going to take a bunch of 5 percent utilized servers, put them in a cloud, and get them highly utilized — that’s a noble goal,” McQueeney said. “But we are looking at other forms of value on top of that,” he said, adding: “Can we enable the customer (or group of customers) to do things they couldn’t do before? That’s where the real power of the cloud comes from — that’s true for commercial, and it’s just as true for federal.”

Focus on service management. “Oftentimes, new technology stumbles in the marketplace because people forget about the service management aspects of it,” said John Pientka, vice president of Cloud Services at CGI Federal. With cloud, he adds, “it’s easy to end up with virtual machine sprawl if there are no checks and balances … and before you know it, you’ve exceeded the efficiency expectations you had around cloud.”

The service management aspect of the cloud has been one of CGI Federal’s focus areas since it “really embraced” cloud in mid-2010, Pientka said. The company went on to become one of the awardees of the General Services Administration’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) contract, this past October.

“For us, [the cloud] extends our business model,” Pientka said. “We traditionally have been a systems integrator and outsourcing organization providing managed services … and now, we have expanded into providing both cloud infrastructure as well as the services needed to effectively manage it.”

In CGI Federal’s case, the company provides automated discipline, including management for key areas (IT service, change, incidents, financials), as well as patching, security controls, usage monitoring, and billing. “All of those components are part of a larger package to really manage the technology,” Pientka said. “It cost us millions of dollars to put in place,” he said of the service management tool. “But we believe it’s really the best way to provide cloud solutions, especially for federal agencies.” ♦