Cloud computing confusion reigns in U.S. government

Federal IT executives unsure about definition of cloud, survey finds

Federal officials are still confused about what cloud computing is and want security assurances before adopting en masse, a new survey has found.

Federal officials predict that cloud computing will play a big role in future government IT initiatives, but are still confused about what cloud computing is and want security assurances before adopting en masse, a new survey has found.

"Federal IT executives report confusion over exactly what is and what is not cloud computing," the report states. "While few federal IT managers say their agencies are using cloud computing, many more report using applications that rely on the cloud."

FAQ: Cloud computing, demystified  

Just 13% of federal IT managers say they are using cloud computing, but survey results show the true number is quite a bit higher. For example, 44% of the same federal IT managers are using cloud-based database applications and 42% are using cloud-based document management applications.

The survey was conducted by MeriTalk, a community Web site for the government IT industry; and the Merlin Federal Cloud Initiative, a group consisting of systems integrator Merlin International, NetApp, Riverbed and VMware.

The organizations surveyed 605 IT managers, about 300 of which work in the federal government. The rest come from private industry.

For the purposes of the survey, the cloud was defined as "any private or public collection of computers, software or servers accessed over the Internet." This includes public cloud services such as Amazon's online storage and compute platforms, as well as private clouds built within an agency's firewall.

Government IT managers believe e-mail is the most likely candidate for moving to the cloud, and nearly half expect they will move procurement, ERP and CRM tools to a cloud platform in the next five years, the survey found.

When asked what benefits cloud computing will provide, more than half of federal agencies mentioned reduced hardware requirements, and 45% look forward to reduced costs from the pay-as-you go model. Reduced staff requirements, flexibility, group collaboration and business continuity are other perceived benefits.

But there are concerns as well.

Nearly four out of five federal IT managers cited security as a barrier to cloud computing within their agencies, and another 41% said privacy is a barrier. Cost, bandwidth and performance are also concerns for some respondents.

Because of security and privacy concerns, federal agencies are more likely to choose private clouds than public ones, the survey found. For example, 41% of private industry respondents say their organizations are open to using public cloud services, compared to just 27% of government respondents.

"Federal IT executives need security assurance and examples of cloud implementation success stories to clear the way for cloud adoption," the report states.

The report urges officials such as federal CIO Vivek Kundra to"create a unified cloud definition to be used across all agencies," as well as standards that can be adopted by government and private industry.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently posted a draft definition of cloud computing and this is "great start," the MeriTalk report says.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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