NASA Cloud Computing in Three Charts

Published: March 16, 2016

Cloud ComputingNASA

According to contract data, NASA is spending an average $19.16 million on cloud computing per year.

Among civilian agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been one of the most aggressive when it comes to the adoption of cloud computing. As NASA’s Chief Information Officer put it in the agency’s 2014 Information Resource Management Plan “Cloud computing and on-demand services will be critical to enabling efficient infrastructure modernization while enhancing business capabilities.” In line with this strategy, NASA has turned to the cloud for collaboration capabilities, storage, website hosting, shared services, and even the enhancement of its cyber security posture, relying on several small business and one industry giant (AWS) to get the job done. These factors make NASA an interesting case study for examining trends in the adoption of cloud by federal government agencies so this post takes a look at cloud spending trends at the space agency over the last three fiscal years.

A Note on Methodology

Here at Deltek we use a couple of different metrics to evaluate the state of the federal cloud contracting market. First, we compile data on the awarded value of cloud contracts. This data enables us to establish a baseline for the size of the market using contract values and it points to potential future trends in spending. Second, we compile data on the obligations that agencies make against the cloud contracts they’ve awarded. This data provides us with a trailing indicator of market demand and the potential earnings companies seeking to do contract work at a given agency can expect. Compared side-by-side, these statistics give us a set of data to consider in tandem with the cloud spending data that agencies provide to the Office of Management and Budget every year.

Charting Cloud Use at NASA

Keeping the methodology discussed above in mind, Chart 01 below provides a view of cloud spending and awarded contract value at NASA from fiscal years 2013 through 2015.

FY 2013 was a big year for cloud contact awards at NASA. The total value of awards has since tapered off, reaching only one-fifth of the 2013 total in fiscal 2015. Spending, however, has remained relatively constant, averaging $19.16M per year. These figures compare favorably with those NASA provided to OMB showing that in FY 2015 it spent $24.9M on cloud computing services, not counting “Other Provisioned IT,” a gray category that can include both commercially provided cloud and shared services provided by other federal agencies.

What are the goods and services that NASA has been awarding cloud contracts for? Chart 02 below shows these divided into general categories of work.

Leading the pack according to both data sets are testing and design services. This comes as no surprise because in addition to buying commercial services, NASA is contracting to have in-house systems and applications cloud-engineered. Spending and awards for data center services (generally off-premise hosting and computing resources) come next, reflecting NASA’s deep relationship with AWS.  

Lastly, the data in Chart 03 shows the type of service being provided. Readers should be aware that these are best-guess estimates based on the limited amount of information we have about some contracted efforts.

Given the limitations, the “Unknown” category dominates this chart. Deltek assumes that the lion’s share of the “Unknown” total falls into the Infrastructure-as-a-Service bucket based on anecdotal evidence of increasing cloud storage use by NASA customers, but only NASA insiders would be able to confirm this and I don’t know any of them. By contrast, the high Platform-as-a-Service numbers make sense given the data shown in Chart 02. Much of the engineering of NASA systems for the cloud takes place in PaaS environments, so it is logical to assume spending there would be high. We would expect these numbers to eventually shift to the right as engineering cycles are completed and hosting by commercial providers increases.

Final Thoughts

The data show here provides a snapshot of the lifecycle of cloud adoption by federal agencies. Most are still in the early stages of adoption, so one would expect much of the work to currently center on cloud engineering. NASA’s aggressive adoption of cloud thus provides a roadmap to the investment and use pattern taking shape across many other departments. The major elements of this are:
  • Award the services contracts needed to meet the goals set by the CIO.
  • Conduct testing and development services to cloud-enable agency applications.
  • Initially spend some, but not a lot, on select SaaS-based capabilities.
  • Eventually shift the bulk of spending to IaaS for the hosting of agency data and applications whose capabilities are then provided back to the agency as SaaS-based capabilities.
  • Invest more in SaaS as comfort with the model grows.
Given this lifecycle, it seems likely that SaaS and IaaS remain the best bets for future growth in the cloud market. PaaS spending will likely remain solid, but it is really in SaaS and IaaS where we should see the most future growth.