Government moves to the cloud, slowly

Report shows security, lack of standards in government IT orgs is hindering cloud adoption

A year and a half after the U.S. Office of Management and Budget declared a "cloud first" strategy requiring government organizations to at least consider cloud-based services when launching new applications and IT services, experts say the government is only moving slowly to the cloud, and it has a long way to go.

MeriTalk, an independent group that providers research on government IT, released a study showing that an estimated $5.5 billion has been saved by the federal government organizations moving to cloud-based systems, with e-mail being the most popular cloud-based government application. In an annual $80 billion federal budget though, there is room to do more, officials say. They estimate savings could increase to $12 billion a year if cloud services are more widely adopted.

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"The federal government has certainly taken a cloud first strategy seriously and has been moving toward embracing the cloud wherever possible," says Beth Pepoli, CTO for the state and local government division at EMC. But, as the process has begun to gain traction, there are still significant barriers, she says.

Many government CIOs and IT managers are more comfortable with having private cloud deployments compared to multi-tenant shared infrastructure, Pepoli says. Based on a survey of more than 100 government CIOs and IT managers, 85% said security was the biggest obstacle toward moving applications to the cloud.

Further complicating cloud deployments could be the wide variety of applications and disparate IT operations across the government, says Steve O'Keefe, founder of MeriTalk. This lack of standards among government agencies makes it difficult to have an overarching strategy to execute cloud deployments, he says. O'Keefe estimates there are more than 600 HR applications used across the state and federal government in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Defense is running more than 100 operating systems, he says. While plans are underway to consolidate the number of data centers the government owns, O'Keefe says more standards across the government could help speed cloud deployments and make them easier to manage.

There are some efforts afoot across government to embrace the cloud, though. Pepoli notes that Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Minnesota have executed a multi-state request for proposals (RFP) to access geospatial applications via a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering. A handful of vendors have been selected that each of the states will have an option to choose from working with.

Providers are looking to tap into the market as well. Amazon has a GovCloud offering aimed specifically at government customers while SalesForce.com released a government cloud offering today that is government security compliant under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It also includes a marketplace of 1,400 cloud-based applications aimed specifically at state and local governments for functions such as streamlining permitting and inspection services, for example.

The results of the survey are being announced at a conference being held in Washington D.C. today discussing the federal government's cloud strategy, sponsored by MeriTalk. Speakers include CIOs from Massachusetts and Delaware, as well as the Department of Homeland Security in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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