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Private clouds promise maximum control and strong security, while commercial cloud services are fast and flexible. Which works best? Government agencies are adopting both, as well as hybrids. The private cloud vs. public cloud debate is rapidly giving way to new models where agencies tap on-demand IT resources from a variety of cloud platforms--private, commercial, hybrid, software as a service--based on what best suits their needs.
There are few technology trends the U.S. government is embracing with such fervor as the cloud. In his Federal Cloud Computing Strategy report, published in February, federal CIO Vivek Kundra set a target of shifting 25% of the government's $80 billion in annual IT spending to cloud computing.
How fast will federal agencies make the transition? InformationWeek Government and InformationWeek Analytics surveyed 137 federal IT pros in February to gauge their plans. Our 2011 Federal Government Cloud Computing Survey shows a big jump in the use of cloud services, with 29% of respondents saying their agencies are using cloud services, up 10 points from last year. Another 29% plan to begin using the cloud within 12 months, which means adoption should surpass the 50% mark in the year ahead.
As federal IT teams evaluate where cloud computing fits in their broad IT strategies, they must answer some fundamental questions: Where will cloud services deliver savings over existing systems? How should they provision and manage cloud services? And the big one on everyone's mind, what about data security?
The Obama administration's "cloud first" policy requires agencies to use cloud services where possible for new IT requirements. Cloud computing is more than a new technology services approach; it demands changes to deep-rooted procurement processes and organizational culture. It's also an alternative to capital investment in systems and software, as agencies look to eliminate 800 data centers over the next four years in accordance with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.
The Office of Management and Budget's influence is shown in our survey, with 21% of respondents saying that compliance with OMB guidance is a driver in their shift to cloud computing.
The economies of scale from shared, centralized infrastructure have the potential to lower usage costs across government. In a pure utility model, users pay only for what they consume, but that doesn't translate to federal IT yet. However, with the prospect of decreasing budgets, agencies must find ways to direct limited funds to their core missions, which may mean having less money available for IT investments. Cloud computing could very well be part of how they cope.
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