Getting the federal government into the cloud remains a lofty goal

There is a big push to the cloud, but study shows obstacles remain

A study out this week from VMware shows there are billions of dollars to be saved by the U.S. government adopting cloud computing and there’s an ambitious initiative by the government to make it happen, but that budget constraints, security worries and a certain amount of cynicism may impede its progress. The government’s Cloud First initiative has the potential to benefit companies like VMware, as well as Microsoft, if they can get the government to make the necessary investments.

VMware sponsored the “Federal Cloud Weather Report,” released April 18, which was created by a group called MeriTalk, described as an online community of federal agencies and associations, including vendors that sell to them. It has published other studies on government IT issues in 2010, 2009 and 2008. The latest report, based on surveys in January and February of CIOs and other IT professionals in the federal government, shows that 64 percent of them are “bullish” on cloud computing, believing it will save money and improve service. Specifically, the report forecasts first-year savings from adoption of cloud computing will save the federal government $14.4 billion of the total $35.7 billion spend to support legacy technology systems. After that, Cloud First is forecast to produce 30 percent annual savings it both capex and opex spending on IT.

The “Cloud First” initiative, adopted by the Office of Management and Budget in December 2010, requires federal agencies to move one IT service to the cloud in the first 12 months and two additional services to the cloud in 18 months. Already, they’re seemingly behind schedule, with 79 percent of CIOs saying they’re not following the policy yet but that 64 percent plan to within the next two years.

Most likely, agencies will first put e-mail in the cloud, with 42 percent choosing to deliver that as a Software-as-a-Service” SaaS offering, followed by administrative applications and collaboration tools, with 42 percent support for each. The strong preference is to adopt a private cloud model for cloud delivery.

Impediments to cloud adoption are identified as “budget constraints,” identified as a concern of 79 percent of CIOs and 31 percent of other IT managers, and “security concerns,” a worry of 71 percent of CIOs and 66 percent of IT managers.

Budget constraints are a fact of life in government and -- not to be cynical about government -- in many large organizations.

“The federal government has a very big job, it covers everything you can think of and is very complex. Any democracy as large as the United States is going to be,” said Aileen Black, vice president of the public sector business of VMware, which derived up to 14 percent of its 2010 revenue from U.S. government sales. Microsoft is also eagerly pursuing federal dollars with its own initiatives to serve the Cloud First cause.

The issue with federal IT spending, Black continued, is that it is divided into “stove-piped” projects that each have their own purposes, budgets and restrictions.

“In the federal government you have money that has different colors that you can only spend on certain things,” she said, adding that most budgets are for operations and maintenance of legacy systems, with little available for new projects like the cloud.

While these goals seem daunting, the Obama administration has been particularly “bold,” Black says, in pursuing IT initiatives. For instance, President Obama appointed the government's first Chief Technology Officer.

I just hope that the Cloud First initiative can overcome the hurdles this survey reveals and persevere to really produce the savings and efficiency improvements that are possible.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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