Exit strategies essential for federal cloud integration efforts

As government agencies increasingly adopt short- and long-term cloud integration strategies, there is a growing focus on the details that enable these efforts to succeed. In many cases, this is the biggest challenge that agency leaders now face. They understand the importance of cloud computing adoption in general, but they may not be as well aware of the ideal tactics for ensuring the integration process is as smooth and productive as possible.

This can be seen in the realm of cloud computing contracts. As several federal cloud experts recently highlighted at the Federal Cloud Computing Summit in Washington, a key consideration in this area is the need for an exit strategy, Fierce Government IT reported.

Exit as needed
Without a doubt, cloud computing contracts represent a critical part of overall adoption efforts throughout the federal government. Without well-written, comprehensive contracts, it is difficult or even impossible for federal departments to ensure they will receive the level of performance and reliability expected from their managed service providers.

The importance of exit strategies is not nearly as widely understood, yet it is equally crucial. The primary reason why this is the case, the news source explained, is the simple fact that interoperability and portability remain problems for any cloud integration effort. This means that there are still numerous cases in which federal agencies may embrace a particular cloud service, only to discover that interoperability or portability issues greatly compromise the effectiveness and value of the specific solution. When these problems are intractable, the best possible next step will often be to simply end this service and seek out a new one.

For this to happen, though, the cloud contract needs to have this possibility accounted for, as Bob Bohn, cloud computing technical program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, explained to conference attendees, the source reported.

According to Bohn, this is not solely a matter of being able to sever the business relationship quickly and without penalty. Instead, the strategy must also account for the information that will reside in the vendor's cloud environments.

"You want to be sure that you can at least get the data back in a form that you can read and make sure that that's in that contract," Bohn noted, Fierce Government IT reported.

One U.S. organization that has fully recognized the importance of exit strategies in cloud contracts is the Labor Department. CIO Dawn Leaf, speaking at the summit, noted that the Labor Department specifically added language into a recent cloud email contract to guarantee that the DOL will be able to quickly and easily transfer all of its information back to its original email system if the hosted offering does not satisfy the agency's needs.

Getting it right
Of course, ensuring that cloud contracts allow for this level of flexibility is easier said than done. The specific language used by the agencies is critical, as mistakes in this area can cause complications and unforeseen costs.

There's also the question of choosing the right cloud vendor. Not every service provider will be willing to meet agencies' preferences in terms of exit strategies, while others may only do so with significant persuasion. This adds yet another wrinkle to the already-complex process of cloud service evaluation for federal IT leaders.

An experienced third-party cloud integration firm can help tremendously to alleviate these concerns and optimize the involved processes. These organizations can offer guidance during the selection process and consultation through the contracting phase. With their expertise and experience, these firms can help ensure federal agencies meet all of their objectives when choosing and implementing a new cloud-based system.