Texas expands cloud brokerage model statewide


Just a few years ago, Texas faced a major dilemma as government IT was looking to improve management and control of their virtual resources provisioned in the cloud. Texas needed a solution that could plan cloud IT services, control provisioning, and manage costs in the cloud specific to government IT needs.

A solution of this type had never existed, but Mohammed Farooq, former CTO for the Texas Health and Services Agency (a $4 billion IT organization), developed a dynamic web-based cloud brokerage portal for the state of Texas to plan, procure and manage IT services across providers. This technology gave Texas the ability to simulate cross provider provisioning, and estimate cost prior to deployment. The cloud brokerage would come to be known as Gravitant’s cloudMatrix platform, and is now helping the state move all of its agencies onto the cloud.

“Cloud doesn’t always fit into government procurement,” explains Praveen Asthana of Gravitant, in an interview with CivSource. “The brokerage model allows for governments to set the roadmap for their cloud services without being locked into a single provider.”

After working through a planning phase, Texas launched its cloud brokerage pilot in September of 2011. In the initial pilot group, agencies were able to cut their technology deployment timelines down from months to weeks. They also realized a 20-50% savings in time and cost depending on the application, which led to the approval of a plan to extend the portal to the remaining state agencies.

“This is really a platform for all managed services,” Asthana says noting that since the launch of the Gravitant cloudMatrix platform the company has also created white label versions for other government IT providers. Federal agencies are also exploring how a brokerage platform can work for them.

In essence, the brokerage model creates a central clearinghouse for all of the cloud services in a given organization. This enables IT shops to deploy needed technology without individual business units buying their own solutions at different prices, and often based on inconsistent requirements. The broker takes in the requests of each business unit, and responds with resources that have harmonized governance processes behind them, meaning pricing, solutions, and management will all be consistent.

“We look at ourselves like the Expedia of cloud computing, each shopper is going to be looking for something different, but we can offer up the information from all the disparate providers and create a more consistent process for the organization,” Asthana says.

He points to another critical moment for Texas officials, when during the election demand for the state elections website spiked quickly. The IT shop was able to scale episodically, and quickly to meet the demand without losing website functionality. The ability to do that came through the brokerage, rather than waiting for a traditional deployment brought in from a resource pool. After that, when the demand receded officials could simply focus on the next task at hand without an ongoing cost from the elections website. Instead, they just used what they needed when they needed it. “Maybe if Healthcare.gov had a similar organization we wouldn’t see the problems we have had so far,” Asthana adds.

The brokerage may be a role model for other states, given the size and diversity of Texas government. The company is in talks with a few other state governments in addition to the federal government.