Many federal agencies reluctant to enter long-term cloud contracts

Cloud integration among federal agencies is in full swing by this point. Federal groups are not just required to consider cloud-based solutions first when adopting new IT services – many decision-makers are going above and beyond, choosing to implement cloud resources in a wide range of capacities. 

So the question that federal IT decision-makers face is not whether or not to pursue cloud solutions, but rather how to best go about optimizing their use of these tools. 

One important factor in this area is the cloud contract. Specifically, a recent study from MeriTalk, Red Hat and Cisco found that federal leaders see long-term cloud contracts as an impediment to broader cloud integration, despite the fact that these same personnel are eager to embrace the cloud more broadly in their agencies. 

Cloud progress
The report, titled "Cloud Without the Commitment," surveyed 150 federal cloud users. Of these respondents, 75 percent indicated they wanted their agencies to move more of their IT services into the cloud. Such a high figure suggests that cloud computing is no longer seen as a controversial technology in the context of government IT. On the contrary, decision-makers are eager to take advantage of the cloud and its myriad benefits, from cost savings to greater flexibility and beyond.

The types of cloud services embraced by federal agencies are quite varied. The study found that half of respondents who are using the cloud in some capacity have moved their email systems into hosted environments, while 45 percent now take advantage of Web hosting. Forty-three percent indicated they'd migrated servers or storage into cloud environments, while 31 percent had done so with regard to disaster recovery.

Contract issues
Yet there are undoubtedly obstacles preventing agencies from fully achieving their cloud integration goals. As the report's title suggested, one of the most significant of these is fear of vendor lock-in. More than half of the surveyed cloud users stated that their wariness of long-term cloud contracts prevents them from embracing cloud solutions to a greater degree. 

On the one hand, such fears are understandable. After all, vendor lock-in is a real problem throughout the realm of IT services, and can lead to serious complications, from inefficiencies to misspent money to problematic upgrades.

The right arrangement
Discussing these results, Steve O'Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, used the metaphor of a marriage, emphasizing that it is very possible for agencies to have positive long-term relationships with cloud vendors.

"Feds don't have to always be the bridesmaid when it comes to cloud," O'Keeffe said. "Connect with peers who have been down the aisle. And if you feel locked in – get a good prenup. Cloud is all about choice and agility. Otherwise, we end up back where we started."

This last point echoes recent arguments made by a number of federal executives at the recent Federal Cloud Computing summit in Washington. As Fierce Government IT reported, several speakers emphasized the importance of including exit strategies in their cloud integration plans. As Bob Bohn, cloud computing technical program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, explained, these exit strategies are essential in the event that an agency realizes it has made a mistake with its choice of cloud service provider.

A key part of these strategies, according to Bohn, is data recovery. He asserted that this should be written into the service contract, the news source reported.

To ensure this the case, federal agencies pursuing cloud integration should consider working with third-party consulting firms that can offer guidance when developing cloud contracts. Such expertise is essential to guaranteeing that the cloud services will deliver on their initial promise for the agency in question.