Government Agencies Move to Cloud, Cautiously

Despite hype about cloud computing, government agencies are only slowing adopting this new technology.

Author bio:  Bob Kirby is vice president of government sales for CDW-G, a leading provider of technology solutions to government, education and healthcare.

Cloud computing represents a significant shift in how computing resources are provided and managed, and as a result, most public- and private-sector organizations are carefully – and selectively – moving into cloud computing. This careful, deliberate movement is in stark contrast to the considerable cloud hype of the last few years.

“Cloud computing is like the Kenny Chesney song: ‘Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go right now,’” said Ron Ross, senior computer scientist and fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, at the FOSE Federal IT conference in Washington, D.C., in July. “Nagging concerns about security and privacy are holding us back.”

CDW-G’s recent Cloud Computing Tracking Poll bears this out. The survey of 1,200 IT professionals in government, education, healthcare and business, found that security concerns are the biggest impediment to further cloud adoption.

Forty-one percent of respondents said security concerns are holding their organization back from further adoption, followed by cost concerns (40 percent) and privacy concerns (26 percent).

Among those with security concerns, a significant 40 percent say they do not believe the cloud is as secure as their own facilities. Yet CDW-G found that even cloud users often fail to take the all steps they can to secure their data in the cloud.

Just 54 percent encrypt data, 50 percent manage access to cloud applications by staff and 44 percent force password changes every 90 days.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, industry-leading security architecture applies the same protections to operations inside and outside of the cloud.

IT managers turned to cloud computing to provide IT services faster and to control IT costs better. They began by building a virtual infrastructure, and then, in August 2010, launched a full-service private cloud to provision servers on demand. The server-provisioning process, which used to take 30 days, now takes 30 minutes.

Full chargeback capability tells users how much they will spend for the IT service – and how much they will save. Lifecycle management ensures servers are decommissioned annually unless they are renewed, conserving budget.

Federal agencies have several incentives to move to cloud computing, among them the cloud-first policy, which requires agencies to give priority to Web-based applications and services. The 25-Point Plan and the Federal Data Center Consolidation initiative also require that the government’s 2,100 data centers be reduced to 800 by 2015.

CDW-G’s poll found that agencies are moving cautiously to the cloud, with 29 percent of Federal agencies and 23 percent of state and local agencies actively implementing or maintaining cloud computing today.

Far more organizations are using at least one cloud application, such as email, conferencing, or productivity suites, but do not consider themselves active cloud users – an indication that agencies are making tactical use of cloud applications while developing an overall cloud computing strategy. Among Federal and state and local agencies, 73 percent and 79 percent, respectively, are using at least one cloud application today.

The Federal government has estimated that agencies could move one-fourth of the $80 billion Federal IT budget to cloud computing. CDW-G’s survey reveals agencies expect to spend just 21 percent of their IT budget on cloud computing in two years and 32 percent in five years. This is a measured approach – and one that is in line with Federal expectations.

State and local IT professionals anticipate spending less of their IT budgets on cloud, but their spending will also grow, from 16 percent in two years to 23 percent in five years.

Federal agencies see IT infrastructure consolidation, reduced IT capital requirements, and reduced IT energy/power consumption as the biggest benefits of cloud computing, CDW-G’s poll found. Among state and local government agencies, reduced IT capital requirements, “anywhere access” to documents and applications, and reduced IT energy/power consumption are the biggest benefits of cloud computing.

At the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau (WCRB), a licensed rate service organization for worker’s compensation insurance, cloud computing enabled IT staff to focus on mission-critical applications and speed of service, rather than system maintenance.

Previously, IT managers replaced mission critical IT infrastructure required to process and store worker’s compensation data about every three to five years. System maintenance captured significant staff time, as did the periodic rip-and-replace cycle.

Today, staff time spent on system maintenance is dramatically reduced, along with server failure response time, which was cut from half a day to 15 seconds. In addition, WCRB was able to improve its security posture. Using money saved on hardware and staff time, WCRB purchased a Cisco Security Monitoring, Analysis and Response System (MARS), which provides additional insight and control over all traffic on the cloud.

“A lot of questions need to be answered before moving to a cloud environment, including ‘How sensitive is your data and what are the security risks?’ The extra layer of security we were able to fund because of the move to the cloud has alleviated a security headache,” said Michael Mann, vice president for information technology, WCRB.

Reduced IT capital requirements, such as those experienced by WCRB, as well as reduced power consumption, bring cost savings, a critical consideration as agencies grapple to do more with the same or declining budgets.

For active cloud implementers, cloud computing pays off: 82 percent of both Federal and state and local agencies actively implementing cloud computing say they successfully reduced the cost of their applications by moving them to the cloud. Federal agencies have saved an average of 22 percent and state and local agencies have saved an average of 14 percent, CDW-G’s poll found.

For agencies planning a move to the cloud, CDW-G recommends the following steps:

Develop your vision: Understand where executive leadership wants to take the agency, and then build an IT strategy to support that vision. Commit to a timeline.

Assess your IT assets: Get control of IT costs and conduct full data center assessments. Evaluate IT skills and disaster readiness plans.

Embrace IT governance: Information is a valuable business asset and should be managed accordingly. Be sure to implement processes, roles, controls and metrics.

Invest in validated architecture: Develop enterprise architecture and establish capacity planning discipline.

Virtualize everything




Tags: cloud computing, government IT


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