David Nelson, CIO, United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Cloud computing has proven itself to be beneficial to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC began its journey toward cloud computing seeking innovative ways to enhance service delivery performance and enable effective demand management practices, such as the ability to adjust service levels based on usage demand. Optimizing and iteratively right-sizing the agency’s information technology service portfolio, and reducing the footprint of agency-operated datacenters were also targets. Therefore, the agency’s initial implementation of cloud computing focused on e-mail, collaboration services, and high performance computing-areas that provide high benefits at relatively low risk.
The NRC benefitted from lessons learned from other Federal agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Department of the Interior, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Federal Cloud Center of Excellence, an interagency group organized by the General Services Administration, was also a continuing source of information and aided our development of a cloud strategy and acquisition and project planning guidance. For better security and resource utilization, the NRC attempts to limit new cloud acquisitions to services that are authorized by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.
The NRC has recently implemented e-mail cloud services using Microsoft Corporation’s Office 365, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, to replace the agency’s on-premise legacy e-mail system. The new service reduces the agency’s infrastructure overhead and support costs, including hardware and software upgrade expenses while providing new productivity tools and capabilities. The NRC anticipates cost savings to recoup our migration investment within two years. The cloud services also provide enhanced security capabilities such as data loss prevention and digital rights management, improve user experience with added e-mail storage capacity, and simplify the implementation of record retention policies.
We took the leap to adopt cloud computing understanding the opportunity costs of inaction
In addition, Office 365 opens up more opportunities to expand the agency’s capabilities to support a collaborative and team-oriented workplace and to support the agency’s mobile workforce. As part of building the infrastructure foundation to support Office 365, the NRC established new network capabilities to enable secured and optimized connectivity with the cloud service provider computing environments. This effort was complex, as it required coordination with multiple service providers to implement network configuration changes. However, the NRC expects this effort will improve quality of service and pay off quickly as this solution will accelerate other cloud service implementation initiatives through a unified direct network connection.
The NRC is also replacing, our high performance computing capabilities with the Amazon Web Services’ GovCloud infrastructure-as-a-service offering. Through this effort, the NRC expects to realize a variety of benefits, including a decrease in standalone computers and data centers; improved service reliability, availability and flexibility for users; efficient use of scalable computing resources; and the ability to pay for only the computing resources used. The initial focus is to migrate, 70 scientific algorithms used for NRC analysis to inform regulatory decision-making. The NRC anticipates significant savings for service operation and maintenance costs, and expects to recoup the implementation cost within 3 years. Although the NRC prioritizes SaaS and platform-as-a-service as generally more cost effective, infrastructure-as-a-service is, in this case, best suited for the initial transformation of high performance computing capabilities. Nonetheless, one SaaS service that looks promising for further high performance computing cost and efficiency optimization is server-less computing (such as Amazon Web Services’ Lambda and Microsoft Azure Functions).
The NRC also has a demand for a secured file sharing solution to enable collaborative activities with agency mission affiliates with the flexibility to access the service from anywhere and without the need to expand the agency’s network infrastructure. The NRC evaluated several options and selected a SaaS offering that will deliver the required capabilities while meeting the agency’s security requirements. This service is also interoperable with other cloud services in use at the NRC such as Microsoft Office 365 and IBM MaaS360, and enables agency staff to seamlessly manage the entire lifecycle of content, from creation to retention to disposition, all on a single platform. This service offering also provides the NRC with the ability to automate security policy enforcement to prevent unauthorized downloads, uploads, or sharing of sensitive information.
Looking toward the future, the NRC plans to establish a cloud-broker technical facilitation service. The agency plans to partner with the broker to operationalize service management capabilities establish an integrated environment that monitors all cloud service usage and performance, further enable the agency’s demand management practices, and assist the NRC to right-size and prioritize its cloud service adoption portfolio. The agency is also evaluating the use of platform-as-a-service cloud services to support future business process automation needs. In doing so, the NRC anticipates that such services will help the agency accelerate process improvement initiatives, provide a more cost-effective solution platform by adopting a low-code development approach, and allow the agency to take advantage of value-added features.