The intelligence community is betting on cloud-based application delivery.
Earlier this month, In-Q-Tel, the venture capital firm for the 17 agencies that comprise the IC, joined Bain Capital Ventures and Microsoft Ventures in making a $16 million investment in San Mateo-based Frame.
Frame, which recently opened an office in Reston, Virginia, because of its growing federal business, is among a new crop of companies looking to challenge leading traditional virtual desktop infrastructure providers like Citrix and VMware.
Their secret weapon? Cloud computing.
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“We want to provide a seamless experience for users and deliver even the most demanding applications to any device that needs nothing but a browser,” said Jason Holloway, who heads Frame’s public sector business. Holloway formerly worked at the CIA and was a leading force behind its move to cloud computing.
Traditional VDI relies heavily on internal data centers, meshing new technologies with old applications and hardware. But customers are increasingly pushing for “pay-as-you-go” pricing options popular among infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service offerings, according to Frame CEO Nikola Bozinovic.
Frame’s software, he said, allows users to operate virtual computers in a cloud or data center. Users access applications, like Microsoft Office or Google Earth, through a web browser on any device or thin client and streamed to it.
“It’s similar to Netflix or YouTube in that what’s hitting your device is only a video stream,” Bozinovic explained to Nextgov. “The difference is that it’s interactive. It’s the same concept as the remote desktop but running at scale with high performance and security controls.”
If cloud-based app delivery is akin to a virtual desktop on steroids, it’s also potentially big cost saver. Agencies, Holloway said, could save money through buying less hardware (like desktops PCs) and spending less on operations and maintenance. More difficult to quantify, though, is the possibility of enhanced information security. A centralized environment, Holloway said, allows for faster patching and risk mitigation without the onus on security falling to users.
As the federal government turns more to cloud—President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requests a record $8.5 billion for provisioned services like cloud computing—Bozinovic expects more agencies to pursue cloud-based application delivery, especially those with an abundance of disparate field offices.
The IC has been a cradle of innovation in VDI. In 2013, the IC began the multiyear, multibillion dollar challenge of delivering desktop services and unified communications across all intelligence agencies under the IC Information Technology Enterprise framework.
When the common desktop environment initiative began, cloud “wasn’t part of the discussion,” an official from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency told Nextgov. NGA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have led the CDE effort across the IC.
“But it is part of the discussion now,” the official added.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of Frame’s public sector work has been to support the IC’s effort.
Frame supports Microsoft Azure Government and the Amazon Web Services GovCloud region—cloud providers popular among security-conscious federal agencies—with plans to support the Google cloud by the year’s end.
Frame also has customers on the government’s classified side through its C2S cloud. The C2S cloud is a CIA-procured, AWS-developed cloud infrastructure for the intelligence community that now hosts a marketplace for classified applications.
Beginning in the IC, Bozinovic hopes to take Frame “to other [Defense Department] customers and then other branches of government.” Importantly, it has the backing of In-Q-Tel, both in funding and praise from one of its managing partners.
“Frame takes virtual desktops to the next level by delivering a solution that operates completely within a web browser at performance levels we have not seen before,” said George Hoyem, managing partner of investments at In-Q-Tel, in a statement. “The ability to reduce security risks with zero-footprint virtual desktop clients, while simplifying management of desktop software, is attractive to our government partners.”