Government Technologist: Cloud Computing's Hard Realities Set In

It's becoming apparent that cloud computing isn't as easy as it sounds.
April 18, 2011 InformationWeek Government Digita InformationWeek Green
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John Foley Federal agencies are racing to comply with the Office of Management and Budget's "cloud first" policy, which requires them, where possible, to use cloud computing in lieu of investing in servers and software. It's a laudable goal, but the pace of implementation has become too much, too soon.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra laid out the expectations in December, when he instructed each agency to identify three services that could be--indeed, must be--moved to the cloud within 18 months. Agency CIOs are taking the mandate seriously. Our just completed survey of federal IT pros' cloud plans reveals that 29% of agencies are using cloud computing and another 29% expect to do so within 12 months. That means they will cross the 50% threshold sometime this year. (See "Cloud Computing's Tipping Point" for more analysis of our 2011 Federal Government Cloud Computing Survey.)

But it's becoming apparent that cloud computing isn't as easy as it sounds. GSA launched 18 months ago, but infrastructure as a service still isn't available there, despite GSA's best efforts. And FedRAMP, a program for expediting the certification of cloud services and platforms for government use, is likewise behind schedule. Launched a year ago, FedRAMP has yet to go into beta mode.

Agencies have the option of plugging into commercial cloud services or building their own private clouds, but there have been complications on both fronts. The Department of Interior began using Microsoft's software as a service last year, but found itself the subject of a lawsuit by Google, which argued it hadn't been given a fair shake at the contract. That dispute took another turn a few weeks ago, when a Microsoft lawyer blogged that Google Apps for Government doesn't comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act, as Google has claimed.

Private clouds offer a way to avoid such tussles. In our survey, 46% of respondents say their organizations have adopted or are highly likely to adopt private clouds, compared with only 30% that have adopted or are highly likely to adopt public cloud services adapted for government. Federal IT pros cite superior physical security, regulatory compliance, and data protection as benefits of private clouds.

But private clouds tend to be more expensive than commercial services, and cost savings are the leading driver of cloud computing. And the government's private cloud efforts suffered a setback last month when a leading proponent--Chris Kemp, the leader of NASA's Nebula cloud project--resigned to return to the private sector. Kemp, who recently had been promoted to CTO for IT at NASA, pointed to dwindling funds and a lack of clout as impeding his ability to drive change.

There are other obstacles. A program for spurring cloud adoption in federal government, the Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart Adoption of Cloud Computing, isn't well established. In our survey, only 5% of federal IT pros say they've found it very helpful; more than half are unfamiliar with it. And as I've written before, cloud ROI has been difficult to prove.

The race to the cloud is on. But it won't be a straight dash to the finish.

InformationWeek: Mon. dd, 2011 Issue
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