FAA’s Air Traffic Organization considers much with cloud pilots

When looking at the cloud, there’s a lot to consider.

Today we talk about the myriad of concerns about cloud with Steve Cooper of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Organization.

He tells us what’s going on in terms of cloud computing and Web 2.0 at his office, and why he’s taking the look in the first place.

SC: First of all, we’ve got a small tiger team inside of our organization focused on cloud computing. We’re looking at [it] a little bit differently. We’re after demonstrating and proving the viability of cloud computing as a way to more quickly stand up capability.

Today, if an internal customer comes to us and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got this application that we’ve been developing and we now need it hosted in one of our data centers,’ — well, that’s us. We host all this stuff. We run our data centers. But, in order to do that, we actually have to plan ahead. In some cases, we’ve got to plan 3 to 6 months ahead. We have to procure servers. Even with our virtualized environment, we still may have to provide servers. We may have to make sure that we’ve got any kind of specialized equipment necessary for the well-being and life cycle support of that application. That lead time is 3 to 6 months. You’ve got to get it through procurement hoops. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the right types of skill sets on board, and so forth and so on. I’m pretty sure that your audience will identify with that type of scenario in government today.

Here’s the tremendous advantage of cloud computing. Suppose that I can change that 3 to 6 month time frame to 3 to 6 days, or hours. Look at the phenomenal capability that we now bring in providing the benefit of whatever that investment was. Look how much more rapidly we can bring that capability online for the air traffic organization. That’s the exciting part of cloud computing. And if I can do that safely, if I can do it in a way where I may not have the full skill set to do something I want to do, that’s what I’m after. So, our pilot [programs] — they’re not real sexy but they demonstrate the viability.

We’re looking at bringing up collaboration capability in the cloud. That’s area number one — and that really is social media. That’s some of the new stuff we talk about with Web 2.0. What do we do with YouTube? What do we do with Facebook? What do we do with mySpace? What do we do with something like LinkdIn for networking and collaboration. What do we do with video conferencing? What do we do with individual Web conferencing on everybody’s desktop or laptop? How do we do all that stuff, and how do we do that in a way that makes it available instantaneously to any and all of us?

Area number two — we’re looking at actually moving our software development environment into the cloud. We’ve got tremendous challenges in replicating our production environments, and we can’t always economically afford all the different types of servers and equipment to fully replicate our production environment. But, if we could give that to a third party and, again, do this within all compliance rules and regulations, why wouldn’t I do that? Particularly if I can also do it in a more cost-effective manner.

[The] third area — we’re looking at [is] email archiving in the cloud. Storage, although the cost of unit storage has come down tremendously, our storage demands are growing at a phenomenal rate. The FAA and the Air Traffic Organization produces terabytes and petabytes of data. The cost of providing that in our own physical environment is increasing as an absolute percentage of our total investment in IT. Well, heck, if I can do that more efficiently or more cost-effectively by going to a cloud provider, I’d love to do it.

FCB: One of the things we’re seeing is that cloud is such a big trend, but some people are hesitant to jump in [and] some people are jumping in, like you guys are, with both your feet — [but] the reason I hear, most of the time, [for the hesitation] is security, security, security. It sounds to me like you found a way to deal with those security concerns, but also make it beneficial for the ATO.

SC: Listen, I wish I had. Those folks are absolutely right. You’re absolutely right — and, no, we don’t have a solution to the security challenges. But, what we’re doing is, when I use the words, ‘We’re looking at cloud computing to determine if it’s viable,’ that absolutely includes the [cybersecurity] aspects of cloud computing. So, as we’re reaching out to some partners externally in industry to partner with us — information security, cybersecurity absolutely is part of these proofs of concept that we’re doing.

Hear more with Steve Cooper on Ask the CIO.

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