Many companies and organizations are seeing the value of moving their IT systems from their own, physical servers into the cloud. But federal agencies, by and large, have been hesitant to make that transition with their mission-critical applications.
It’s not hard to see why: these agencies often deal with very sensitive data, so they want to be sure that information is secure and protected, said Sean Murphy, chief development and innovation officer for the IT and cybersecurity firm T-Rex Solutions.
Furthermore, there’s a risk to going first, and agencies would rather wait to see a proven success elsewhere before making the move themselves, Murphy said.
But the Greenbelt-based T-Rex is poised to guide federal agencies to a secure cloud thanks to the company’s work on the 2020 United States Census.
T-Rex is a contractor providing technical integration solutions for the Census, work that involves making sure numerous computerized systems—from payroll and HR to the online form residents can fill out to be properly counted—both function by themselves and work together as they should.
The company is also one of the parties providing cybersecurity support for the Census, using what it calls “active cyber defense.” However, T-Rex is keeping the details of this part of their operation close to the chest.
The unique nature of the Census—which hires hundreds of thousands of temporary employees once every decade, and which will generate a high-volume of web traffic but only during a limited time frame—makes the cloud the ideal place to house many of these systems.
Constructing its own data centers to house the servers needed for these tasks would be a significant, permanent capital expense for the Census bureau—and that extra capacity won’t be needed once the Census winds down in a few months.
But by using the cloud for these operations, the Census only needs to pay for the computing power it needs during the period it’s needed, said Seth Moore, T-Rex’s president and CEO.
That elasticity is crucial.
One key example is the Internet Self-Response system. Previously, residents would participate in the Census by filling out a paper-based form and mailing back the form; this year, they’ll be able to use an online form, which means a lot of people will be logging on to that system.
But most people will log on during certain hours of the day—the late afternoon or evening, when they get home from work and open their mail. And most of this activity will occur over the course of a few weeks once the Census invitations are mailed; after that, the volume of traffic for the system is projected to taper off.
The same is true for the 350,000+ Census workers who will go door-to-door collecting data. Most of that work will be done in the evening, when people are at home, creating significant peak loads on the system.
Thus, the Census is the perfect application to demonstrate the merits of the cloud to other agencies and encourage them to make the move themselves.
“It’s not a baby step,” Murphy said. “It’s a huge step.”
Murphy expects the Internal Revenue Service (which also has a clear “busy season” each spring) to be one of the next agencies to embrace the cloud for its computing needs.
And when the IRS and other agencies are ready to move to the cloud, T-Rex will have knowledge and proven experience at a size, scale, and complexity that few other organizations can offer.
“We’re extraordinarily well-positioned to help these agencies,” Moore said.