Federal Government Departments Finally Making Moves to Cloud

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-03-03

Federal Government Departments Finally Making Moves to Cloud

At last, the White House is seeing some actual movement from U.S. federal government agencies on bringing cost- and energy-saving cloud-based services to its legion IT departments.

Of course, getting the federal government to move on anything as embedded and as siloed as legacy IT would take even a united Congress a long time to accomplish. And, as is well-known, Congress isn't too united on anything right now.

Virtually all of the early projects involve moving e-mail systems to service providers, but at least the change is taking place. Later on, the White House expects agencies to begin using the cloud for additional purposes, such as data storage, extra computing capacity and others.

U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra (pictured) first announced his "Cloud First" policy at a Silicon Valley event early in 2010. In December 2010, Kundra got more granular and specified that all agencies must move at least one system to a hosted environment during calendar year 2011.

In response, the Department of Treasury moved its Website to Amazon EC2 early in January 2011. Early reaction has been positive, since there haven't been any known security lapses or outages in the first 60 days.

In his official cloud strategy directive ("Federal Cloud Computing Strategy," available for download here), Kundra said that "an estimated $20 billion of the federal government's $80 billion in IT spending is a potential target for migration to cloud computing solutions."

Strategy Now in Public Domain

Last week, Kundra started in earnest the initiative that will force many agencies into talking about, and eventually adopting, cloud computing. Posting the 25-point federal cloud computing plan on the department Web site puts the plan squarely in the public domain and begins a new kind of pressure on federal IT managers to get moving with the program.

The 43-page report, which describes the 18-month road map in the federal cloud computing initiative, includes a listing of the long-term and short-term benefits of cloud computing, use case examples, management recommendations, and key metrics. 

Federal Government Departments Finally Making Moves to Cloud

title=Widespread Uncertainty About Cloud Computing}

There is still widespread uncertainty about the particulars of cloud computing; recent studies have reported that about half of all U.S. IT managers are still seeking out information on the topic before making any changes.

Kundra and those in favor of the strategy insist that the move to upgrade federal IT will improve worker productivity and help lower service, equipment and power costs. In fact, that is what most enterprise companies say they have experienced in their own moves to a service-oriented IT system.

Security-always the No. 1 fear in cloud systems because critical data files are maintained away from the physical confines of a data center-is again the main criticism of such a move. No surprise there.

Thus far, the controversial Homeland Security department is the highest-profile government agency to have adopted cloud computing services.

It's a relatively small step, but at least it's a forward-looking one. IT managers at HS have designed and placed on the 2011 budget a private cloud for its e-mail system, which will enable more than 100,000 e-mail addresses at most of its subdivisions. The cloud will go online in 2012.

In addition, the massive General Services Administration is moving its own e-mail services to the cloud. Its blueprint reports that directors expect to save $15 million over the next five years. The Department of Agriculture migrated some 120,000 e-mail addresses to the cloud late last year, creating a $27 million windfall contract for Unisys to do the infrastructure.

The USDA cloud software uses Microsoft Exchange Online, Office SharePoint Online and Office Communications Online. Other IT companies that have won contracts in this space include IBM, Dell and EMC.

Disruption of Old Practices Is Exactly the Idea

Kundra-a 2009 President Obama appointee who is the first chief information officer in U.S. history-presented a speech Feb. 25 at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association panel discussion on how directors of government agencies can get the ball rolling in their IT departments to adopt cloud computing.

"We want to make sure the shift is disruptive. ... We want the federal government to move away from asset ownership and shift to service provisioning," Kundra said.

The next 18 months in the federal IT world will indeed be disruptive as research is done, meetings are scheduled, plans are made, and bids are sent out to potential contractors.

Rocket Fuel