Fed cloud plan is wisely tempered by security concerns

The federal CIO is pushing for government use of cloud services immediately, and the way he is going about it can teach a lesson to businesses struggling with how to use these services securely.

Vivek Kundra says the goal of the apps.gov site announced this week is to take advantage of all the things that attract businesses to cloud computing – price, efficiency, productivity, flexibility, etc.

So far just applications are available, and a wide variety at that, which should help cut down the redundancies of application instances that government agencies pay for as well as maintenance and staff time spent on upgrades and patches. The site is also making available social media as a way for agencies to communicate.

But the site has just placeholders for cloud IT services including storage, software development, virtual machines and Web hosting. These are services that will inevitably involve risking data in the cloud environment and Kundra is being appropriately cautious. Without adequate security in place, data entrusted to the cloud could become compromised.

Google is interested in providing applications but not until next year when it expects to meet federal information security regulations. Amazon says it wants to expand the number of federal agencies for which its cloud services are approved.

The bottom line, though, is that pilot programs for expanding the initial apps.gov offerings won’t be funded until the next federal fiscal year and won’t have directives for specific federal funding of cloud services until the year after that.

The lessons for business are that they should also proceed with caution and perform risk analysis on what use of cloud services can be made safely. And like Kundra says, they may have to accept that not everything can be trusted to the cloud. That doesn’t mean that a great deal can be placed there to reap the many benefits.

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