FEC tries out utility computing

Under five-year deal with Savvis, Federal Elections Commission will use shared resources to delivery ftp, emai.

The Federal Election Commission is experimenting with what may become a big deal in government IT trends - utility or virtualized computing. The FEC is dipping its pinky toe into utility waters with a five-year, $4.48 million contract with Savvis Federal Systems Inc. In this project, FTP and email will be delivered through Savvis' virtual IT platform, Government Computer News reports.

"I'm not really doing a lot with utility computing, I'm just trying it," Allen said. "It seems like an exciting concept."

So what is utility computing?

The concept is not new. Almost everyone gets electrical power from a utility rather than maintain their own generators, and voice mail service is taking over from answering machines. The same idea is being applied to IT services. Virtualized or utility computing is one step above hosted services, in which a third party provides a home for equipment owned by a customer. ... The idea is that by acquiring services from a general pool, provisioning can be done quickly and adjusted to meet changing needs.

It's an exciting idea for IT managers who are constantly trying to keep networks up and running, even as resources are stretched.

"It's the nature of the job," Allen said. "I've got a lot of real-time, day-to-day problems," in just keeping the agency's infrastructure up and running. "We're a small agency, about 350 people," Allen said. "To do what we do in an election year in a timely fashion, we have to use IT resources. Most candidates and committees file electronically with us," and data is made available to the public electronically through the commission's Web site.

"It seems like utility computing might be a way of handling this," Allen said.

So what about moving core functions - like FEC's primary databases - to utility mode? Don't hold your breath. "I would be very hesitant at this time to move that to this type of a model," Allen said.

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