July 28, 2014
by Andy Medici, Federal Times

The FBI is asking the private sector for ideas on how to construct a massive cloud infrastructure, a move that experts say could save the agency money and transform how it operates.

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division — which handles crime statistics, fingerprint services and operates the national criminal background check system — is looking for a company to create a cloud environment at its Clarksburg, West Virginia, facility, according to a July 11 request for information.

The cloud environment must be based on two data centers more than 1,500 miles apart and should be able to support a wide range of services, including massive scalability, pay-as-you-go policies and the ability to access all the information stored there securely and in real time.

The cloud must also meet a series of other requirements, including:

■ Hardware that can scale to 2.3 petabytes of memory — equal to more than 40 million filing cabinets filled with documents.

■ The ability to replicate the data between the two data centers.

■ More than 99.9-percent service availability every moment of every day.

FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer said the agency was gathering information on possible cloud storage and there are no concrete goals for cloud adoption at the moment.

“At this point in time, the [FBI] is simply exploring new technologies and potential emerging capabilities with this RFI,” Fischer said.

But the FBI could save money and enhance its mission by moving its services to the cloud, according to Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president, public sector at the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector.

He said the systems and databases the FBI has access to — facial recognition systems and biometrics — can run more effectively and with less costs than legacy systems, which have trouble connecting to new technology.

It also obviates the need for the agency to construct its own data-storage facility, complete with construction and energy costs, Hodgkins said.

“Building a cloud infrastructure gives the FBI the flexibility to decide how much they want to use and what controls and authentications they want to deploy,” he said.

The FBI is not just looking for a private, on-site cloud to store data, but rather a public cloud based off the Amazon Web Services Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms. The agency is hoping to sign a contractor for five years to help create and run the public cloud.

The cloud will serve as a development and testing ground for the agency and the contractor should be able to provide customized training to the agency, according to a July 10 solicitation. July 30 is the deadline for responses.

Steve O’Keeffe, the founder of public-private IT partnership Meritalk, said while there will be some savings from moving systems to the cloud, the real opportunity for agencies such as the FBI to expand cloud use is the ability to put its information on a single platform.

The FBI could use the information accessible through the cloud to help investigate crimes or to better work with state or local agencies.

“The value proposition is that sure it may reduce your costs, but the potential to improve outcomes and catch bad guys is massive. The more you get systems out of their silos the greater the ability to run big data and harness better outcomes,” he said.

He said agencies are going to be holding on to more data as their ability to store it in the cloud increases, and agencies will naturally continue to collect data as more devices and sensors capture it.

Sudheesh Nair, senior vice president of worldwide sales and business development at virtual computing company Nutanix, said agencies and organizations increasingly want near-instantaneous access to information from all over the world — and need to build private clouds to keep it secure.

He said law enforcement agencies need private clouds to be able to effectively gather and access the vast amounts of information they need, a trend that is only going to continue.

“Organizations like the FBI are involved in all aspects of life. It’s not just chasing a felon; it’s more about intelligence and information gathering and analytics networks,” Nair said.