Cloud integration a necessity for federal agencies

Cloud integration a necessity for federal agencies

Cloud integration has grown tremendously in recent years across virtually every sector – including the federal government. Usually, cloud computing adoption is framed in terms of its benefits. As has been well established by this point, the cloud offers huge advantages for organizations of all kinds, including – but not limited to – superior performance, greater flexibility, better cost-savings and a broader range of capabilities. 

However, it's important to recognize that, to a significant degree, cloud integration is also about the costs – specifically, the costs of failing to upgrade to new, superior IT systems. As a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed, the federal government is spending a tremendous amount of money on legacy IT investments. As agency budgets continue to tighten, the pressure to minimize wasteful and inefficient spending will only increase. In effect, departments will increasingly turn to the cloud out of necessity.

Billions on legacy IT
The GAO report, prepared for the House Subcommittees on on Government Operations and Information Technology, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, offered a very blunt headline: "Additional Actions and Oversight Urgently Needed to Reduce Waste and Improve Performance in Acquisitions and Operations."

"26 agencies will spend $60 billion on legacy IT investments in fiscal year 2015."

The report found that 26 federal agencies will ultimately spend $60 billion on legacy IT investments in fiscal year 2015. This represents more than three-fourths of the total $78 billion earmarked for technology expenditures in this period. 

This spending pattern is problematic for several reasons. Most obviously, there is the issue of wastefulness. Legacy IT will often simply prove unable to deliver the value or utility of more modern technologies, such as cloud computing, yet requires just as much or more investment. By relying on legacy IT, agencies limit how much they can accomplish within their budgetary restrictions.

Cloud integration and data center consolidation, on the other hand, can deliver major cost savings. The GAO found that data center consolidation saved the federal government $192 million in 2011, $268 million in 2012 and $683 million in 2013. For the years from 2014 through 2017, the savings are projected to increase from $895 million to $1.1 billion annually. Altogether, the GAO predicts that the federal government will save nearly $7.5 billion solely through these efforts. 

Perhaps even more importantly, federal use of legacy IT presents a serious security risk. Security Intelligence contributor Fran Howarth noted that the Windows XP operating system, for example, is six times more likely to fall victim to malware than more recent Windows operating systems, according to Microsoft. Any organization that depends on Windows XP is therefore at much greater risk than a firm that has updated its IT.

"Windows XP operating systems are six times more likely to fall victim to malware."

Moving to the cloud effectively guarantees an upgrade. After all, the cloud is essentially a collection of computers and servers maintained by the third-party services provider. Without exception, these computers will run on more modern, and therefore safer, operating systems.

This issue is not limited to operating systems – it spans the entirety of federal IT efforts, as Tony Scott, Federal chief information officer, stated during a panel discussion at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference.

"Most of the technology that the government has invested in and the private sector has produced – most of it had its design point 10, 15, 20 years ago when we didn't face the kinds of threats that we face today," said Scott, according to Fierce Government IT. "It's just inconceivable to me that you can build the kind of security that you want with components that weren't designed for the challenge."

David Bray, CIO of the Federal Communications Commission, added that a reliance on legacy IT also makes it more difficult for agencies to innovate, thereby further restricting agency capabilities, the news source reported.

Upgrading IT
Given all of these incentives to upgrade IT, it's easy to see that agencies need to ramp up their cloud integration and other IT improvement efforts.

Naturally, this is easier said than done. However, agencies can go a long way in this direction by working closely with a well-regarded third-party IT consulting services provider. This eliminates one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of federal IT upgrades – the lack of in-house expertise – and minimizes the costs inherent to moving data and operations to new systems.

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