McGrath said using the Akamai network provided a better-quality Web experience to citizens for less money than building their own network. Akamai also provided a barrier against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
"That was a huge concern for us that in the height of the decennial activity if we were a target of a DDoS attack or the site would go down or the performance would go down that it would reflect negatively on the Census Bureau and deter citizens from participating," McGrath says. "Using the CDN was a huge positive lesson. I don't know if it could have gone any better."
Census also used several software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, including RightNow, which provides self-service customer support such as searchable FAQs. Census says it was able to get RightNow up and running 25 days after purchasing the system. Census says it would have taken six months just to select the IT infrastructure required to run the application in house.
Census uses GovDelivery, which provides outsourced e-mail delivery services to public sector clients. GovDelivery's built-in blogging tool was used by the Census Bureau Director to publish a blog within days of buying the service.
The bureau's Integrated Partner Contact Database is built upon Salesforce.com's platform, which it paid for on a subscription basis. Census was able to tweak the configurations on Salesforce.com software, rather than having to conduct any custom programming.
Census also is using the free http://www.networkworld.com/news/2006/121806-web-20-apis.html ">Google Map's API to quickly develop mapping applications including an assistance center lookup and an interactive road tour.
To speed up acquisition of these cloud-based services, Census partnered with other federal agencies including the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and chose SaaS vendors that had already been certified by another agency. NIST is leading a federal cloud computing advisory council that is setting cloud standards and certifying cloud-based service providers to make it easier for agencies to buy cloud computing services.
"We didn't have to re-certify and re-accredit the systems, and it really pushed the delivery of the service down from months to days or weeks," McGrath says.