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2/11/2011
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White House Issues Federal Cloud Strategy

The Federal Cloud Computing Strategy seeks to accelerate federal cloud adoption by detailing benefits, outlining a deployment framework, and describing agencies' roles and responsibilities.

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In advance of next week's budget, the White House has issued a document outlining a government-wide strategy to adopt cloud computing more broadly in the federal government.

The document, which outlines cloud computing's benefits and necessary considerations, details government cloud computing case studies and outlines the roles and responsibilities of various government bodies in helping to facilitate cloud adoption. It calls on federal agencies to "re-evaluate [their] technology sourcing strategy to include cloud computing as part of the budget process" as part of the federal government's new "cloud first" policy for technology adoption.

The Federal Cloud Computing Strategy (as it is titled) was at least nominally authored by federal CIO Vivek Kundra and reads much like an analyst report on cloud migration that's tailored specifically for the federal government. It was released on the federal CIO's Web site, CIO.gov, Friday morning, but with a posting date of February 14. Soon after its posting, however, the site went down for weekend-long "maintenance." InformationWeek was able to grab a copy before the site went offline.

Kundra's 25-point federal IT reform plan, released in December, had called for the publication of a cloud strategy within six months.

The document begins by defining cloud computing and detailing many of cloud computing's key benefits in comparison to traditional on-premises IT deployments. For example, the document points out the possibility of much higher server utilization in cloud computing environments, the ability to keep up with latest releases, and much more flexible capacity. The document estimates that the government could save as much as 30% on data center infrastructure spending by utilizing cloud computing more widely.

"Cloud computing can significantly improve public sector IT," the document states. It points to NASA's Nebula private cloud environment, noting that instead of taking researchers months to procure and stand up their own IT environments for important space science research, Nebula has enabled that process to take place in only minutes.

The strategy also outlines a decision and deployment framework for federal agencies to consider when determining how and whether to migrate systems to the cloud. The three-step framework, detailed at length in the document, includes guidance on selecting, provisioning, and managing cloud services.

Several case studies highlight successful federal government agency cloud migrations and illustrate some of the cloud's benefits to feds. One example is the Army Experience Center's adoption of customized cloud CRM to cut costs and increase agility while at the same time meeting the Army's "unique security needs." Another discusses the Department of Agriculture efforts to consolidate 21 fragmented e-mail systems by moving to Microsoft Exchange Online.

The strategy also breaks down the various roles and responsibilities of agencies and organizations in facilitating the government's strategy. A hodgepodge of organizations have sprouted up and taken responsibility for driving government cloud adoption, but the new strategy adds some clarity to their roles.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will lead and work with other government and private sector IT leaders on cloud standards and guidance. The General Service Administration will create government-wide procurement vehicles. The Department of Homeland Security will monitor cloud-related security issues. The Federal CIO Council, agencies themselves, and the Office of Management and Budget (home of the federal CIO) will also play specific roles as part of the strategy.

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