The Troposphere

May 14 2010   7:49PM GMT

Recovery.gov: A slap in the face to business as usual

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

The federal government has just launched Recovery.gov running entirely on Amazon’s cloud services. Vivek Kundra, federal CIO and cloud champion, is using the site to browbeat skeptics who said that the fed shouldn’t or couldn’t use one-size-fits-all cloud IT services to run important stuff. It’s an opportunity to do something that he hasn’t been able to do so far- flex some muscle and make people sit up and pay attention.

Everything to date has either been a science project–apps.gov, hosting data.gov’s front end at Terremark, NASA Nebula, etc– or a bunch of fluff and boosterism, and his promised cloud computing budgets haven’t hit the boards yet, so up until now, it was business as usual. I’ll bet agency CIOs were spending most of the time figuring out how to ignore Kundra and laughing up their sleeves at him.

This changes things. Recovery.gov is a whole project, soup to nuts, running out in the cloud, not just a little peice of an IT project or a single process outsourced. It’s a deliberate, pointed enjoinder that he can get something done in Washington (even if it’s just a website) by going around, rather than through, the normal people.

Technology-wise, this is nothing- the choice of Amazon incidental at best, the money absolute peanuts.

Process-wise, it’s a very public slap in the face to the IT managers and contractors at the fed. It’s absolutely humiliating and horrible for them- every conversation they have for the next year is going to include, “But recovery.gov…” and they know it. If they can’t find a way to squash Kundra, the IT incumbents are in for some scary, fast changes in how they do business.

Federal contractors and government employees HATE that- it’s the opposite of ‘gravy train’. The system isn’t designed to be competitive; it’s designed to soak up money. Kundra is effectively going to force them to be competitive by rubbing their nose in that fact.

What it shows on a larger level is something worth remembering; cloud computing isn’t a technological breakthrough as much as it is a process breakthrough. Cloud users may find it neat that Amazon can do what it does with Xen, for example, but fundamentally, they don’t care that much, they’re just there to get the fast, cheap, no-commitment servers and use them. And that’s what Kundra’s done with Recovery.gov (Ok, he picked a contractor do did it, but anyway).

There are probably thousands of federal IT suppliers that could have built and run Recovery.gov, and they would have taken their sweet time about it, and milked the coffers dry in the process, because that’s the normal process. They might have bought servers, rented space to run them, put a nice 50% (or more) margin on their costs, and delivered the site when they couldn’t duck the contract any more. That’s normal.

Kundra picking out a contractor who simply went around all that and bought IT at Amazon, cutting the projected costs and delivery time into ribbons?

That’s not normal-and that’s why cloud computing is so important.

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