Cloud First: End Of The Beginning For Federal Agencies?

Federal agencies are shifting away from the 2010 Cloud-First mandate and setting foundations for using the cloud for business and mission objectives.

Gaurav Pal, Contributor

February 6, 2014

5 Min Read

It's been nearly four years since the federal government launched its first public information service,, in the cloud. The rapid deployment of this highly visible system in a public cloud helped kick-start the vision for how the cloud could accelerate federal government initiatives. It also brought credibility to former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra's Cloud-First policy to help modernize Federal IT.

Since then, many agencies, including Department of the Treasury, GSA, and the US Navy, have adopted and operated public cloud-based services. Most of these initiatives have involved the migration of public-facing websites and enterprise email systems to the cloud. However, this is beginning to change.

Federal agencies are shifting away from the 2010 Cloud-First mandate, which directed agencies to adopt cloud computing in some capacity, and getting serious about using the cloud to support their business and mission objectives.

[Some IT chiefs still hesitate to give business owners access to the cloud. Read Why IaaS Won't Happen At Most Enterprises.]

Accenture Cloud Platform managing director Michael Liebow believes that we are reaching the "end of the beginning" of Cloud-First as organizations have crossed the technology hurdle and are now focused on enabling the broader enterprise. Liebow was one of several experts who spoke about cloud adoption at a forum sponsored by the University of Maryland's Center for Digital Innovation, Technology and Strategy (DIGITS). The forum included experts from Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Gartner, Accenture, and Microsoft.

"As 2014 dawns, we're moving into an era of truly mainstream adoption of cloud IaaS," said Lydia Leong, VP of research at Gartner, who specializes on cloud computing and big data. While organizations have been using cloud IaaS for several years, gradually moving from development to production, she said, the shift to truly strategic adoption is just getting underway.

The work that's happening at the Interior and Treasury Departments offer good examples. Executives from both departments described cloud computing initiatives within their organizations that are more strategic in nature, including cloud platforms that support the geospatial community, dev & test-as-a-service, and extranet services, among others. Clearly, the size and scope of cloud programs are becoming larger, driven in part by the crystallization of supporting policies, including FedRAMP and the Department of Homeland Security's continuous diagnostics and mitigation (CDM) initiative.

Cost savings or IT at the speed of business?
But if we're at the end of the beginning of the Cloud-First era, agencies now face bigger challenges in moving more of their operations to the cloud.

Simply doing a lift-and-shift migration to a cloud platform may provide limited cost savings. But the real benefit, according to Gartner's Lydia Leong, comes by leveraging SaaS and PaaS capabilities that can more quickly meet the IT needs of a broader segment of the enterprise. Elastic cloud platforms provide a powerful standardized platform with clearly specified compute, storage, and bandwidth performance "ratings." The ability to offer common identity and access management services and managed security services is also helping accelerate the ability to deploy applications in production. A process that would take months is now possible in weeks -- the application simply plugs into the set of common services.

The ability for organizations to craft their own customized set of services on top of a IaaS baseline helps ensure a good fit that takes into account existing software contracts, skillsets, and legacy applications. These cloud platforms, or community clouds, deliver a "platform dividend" that reduces the cost of supporting each application by removing duplicated infrastructure, operations, and security costs. That can be seen in the following illustration:

Community clouds not only reduce costs but also enable greater agility in service enablement.

The future: platform-centric computing
One of the challenges organizations -- especially those in the public sector -- face is how to quantify the cost benefit of increased agility, reduced delivery times, and innovation. Academia perhaps has a role to play.

Dr. Il-horn Hann and Dr. Siva Viswanathan, co-directors of the Digital Technology and Innovation Center of Excellence at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, developed a model to estimate the economic impact of the Facebook App Platform. They believe that large enterprises can learn from such platform-centric models and derive economic benefit through efficiencies of scale and removing duplicative functions.

Federal agencies are beginning to realize the benefits of having integrated and fully managed platforms that are serviced by multiple cloud services providers. The Department of the Interior's Cloud Blanked Purchase Agreement, Treasury's Public Cloud Web Hosting, and cloud broker initiatives by DHS, GSA, and DISA are a few examples of how agencies are putting in place the necessary policy, procurement, and technology frameworks to enable such broader adoption.

Clearly, the adoption of cloud computing is still evolving. But it's already evident that agencies are preparing to take the next leap in cloud adoption, to multi-cloud enterprise platforms.


Multi-cloud enterprise platforms provide an increasing set of infrastructure, security, data, and application services that will be delivered out of the box. This will allow developers to rapidly deliver new and innovative business applications built on top of such services. For federal agencies, it means the foundations for the vision of cloud's potential are starting to take shape.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

About the Author(s)

Gaurav Pal


Gaurav Pal (G.P.) is the director of strategic programs at Smartronix, Inc.. with expertise in developing and supporting large enterprise cloud computing systems for public sector and financial services clients. He has an MBA from the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business and a BS in Computer Science. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of any company with which he is or has been affiliated.

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