Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, August 16, 2022

NIH Preps $20 Billion IT, Cloud Contract 

The National Institutes of Health is launching a massive IT acquisition program that will include commodity cloud and managed services.

NIH released a request for proposals for its $20 billion Chief Information Officer-Commodity Solutions contract. The 10-year program is structured as a "government-wide acquisition contract" overseen by the NIH CIO. According to a request for proposals released this week, "medical systems are increasingly [being] integrated with a broader IT architecture."

The NIH contract is one of several large government IT acquisitions currently in the pipeline. The Defense Department is also launching an effort to move all three military services to the cloud.

NIH said its IT branch expects to award multiple contracts to provide government agencies with health and life sciences IT capabilities.

The acquisition is based on a managed services model that will include deployment of a public cloud infrastructure. Federal agencies have been consolidating datacenters under a "Cloud First Initiative" as a way to deploy managed IT services. The NIH solicitation notes the industry trends toward delivering managed services via Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Software-as-a-Service.

As the federal government seeks to catch up with the private sector in areas like cloud deployment, NIH was tapped as the "executive agent" for the massive IT acquisition. A previous government IT acquisition contract expired in November 2013.

Acquisition officials designated NIH as the contract lead given the growing importance of healthcare as well as clinical and biological research.

Among the acquisition requirements bidders must meet are federal guidelines for cloud security under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP.

As currently structured, the contract would allow federal agencies to use either an "on-premises" or "managed services" model in purchasing their IT infrastructure. IT services could be deployed on a public cloud or within managed services like IaaS, PaaS or SaaS offerings.

Among the enterprise components to be acquired under the NIH contract are enterprise resource planning software, data management, power management tools, and storage services.

Other federal agencies have struggled to adopt enterprise services like public cloud and managed offerings. For example, the Defense Department's IT broker, the Defense Information Systems Agency, has attempted to standardize cloud-based IT services within the military under a program called Joint Information Environment.

The initiative is seen as the linchpin for creating a compartmentalized military cloud in which classified and sensitive data must be walled off from public information. Thus far, the military services have backed the program publicly, but there has been little progress in getting the initiative into the field.

Meanwhile, a heavy industry response is expected to the big NIH solicitation. Bids are due on June 11. NIH could reportedly award as many as 70 separate contracts under the acquisition. Acquisition officials have said they expect more than half of the IT contracts to go to small businesses.

NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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