Why Federal Government is Still Behind the Cloud Curve

NEWS ANALYSIS:  Survey shows the U.S. federal government has the desire to keep moving to the cloud, but movement is slow.

When President Obama took office in 2009, one of the first things he declared was that the federal government needed to refresh and update its IT systems by moving as many services to the cloud as possible.

The government then budgeted $26 billion over a span of six years to get the job done. That time window closes Dec. 31.

Six years later, less than a quarter of all federal systems actually have been updated to either be replaced by cloud-based functions -- or even include cloud-based components or options.

Despite the federal Office of Management and Budget's Cloud First policy, FedRAMP, and other federal initiatives, 89 percent of government IT pros still feel some apprehension about underwritten by storage and data protection software vendor NetApp and released by government IT services provider MeriTalk on Feb. 27.

Key questions remain

Although the benefits of cloud are clear, concerns about data stewardship and management are slowing agencies' cloud progress. The key questions that are halting progress are these:

--How can the feds manage data in a multi-cloud, multi-vendor environment?

--What can be done to reduce fear and retain control of agency data so it's consistently managed, no matter where it moves?

--How can business continuity and data protection be maintained in the systems themselves -- as well as for the administrators who control systems?

Cloud initiative started in 2010

With the arrival of Vivek Kundra, the nation's first federal CIO, in late 2009, the notoriously slow-moving government finally started seeing some actual movement in 2010, starting with migrating email to web-based services, such as Gmail.

Kundra had 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 generally was positive, but additional movement since then has been painfully slow.

Kundra left the CIO job in 2011. Not much movement happened on Kundra successor Steve VanRoekel's (2011-15) watch, due to a lot of factors -- many of which involve the long-standing stalemate in Congress since Obama took office. Now it's up to former Microsoft and VMware CIO Tony Scott, named on Feb. 5 as the new federal CIO, to get the ball rolling and agencies out of the information technology Stone Age.

Agency heads still apprehensive about change

As federal agencies strive for more cloud growth, they are still apprehensive. Chiefly, concerns about data stewardship and management are holding them back.

The Feb. 27 survey results bear this out. Despite its uncertainties, the federal government wants to get to the cloud; in fact, it wants to double current progress. According the survey, only 23 percent of federal infrastructure services have moved, or are in the process of moving, to the cloud. The goal is 43 percent by the end of this year. That's not going to happen.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...