Report highlights cloud’s growing role for federal government

The federal government's move toward widespread cloud integration is hardly a new development. Since the 2011 announcement of its "Cloud First" policy, the government has mandated agencies consider cloud options first whenever looking for a new IT service. Yet despite this official strategy, federal cloud adoption is far from universal. At the same time, though, agencies have certainly made progress in this area.

A recent report provided a closer look at the state of federal cloud integration efforts. This study suggests that there are still a number of major obstacles that department leaders must overcome to fully take advantage of cloud resources on the federal level.

"Federal cloud implementations are relatively surface-level."

Incomplete efforts
The report, from the Congressional Cloud Computing Caucus and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), noted that while federal agencies have widely begun to implement cloud integration efforts, these implementations are, in most cases, relatively surface-level. Departments have generally hesitated to fully embrace the cloud for all or most of their IT service needs. Even the significant progress made by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program has failed to convince agencies to deploy the cloud more broadly.

The study identified three key reasons for this hesitation: security concerns, fears that cloud investments will not yield satisfactory financial returns and cultural barriers. 

Security has been a perpetual obstacle for cloud adoption efforts ever since the technology first began to receive mainstream acceptance. However, industry experts agree that the cloud is no less secure than legacy computing solutions. When implemented correctly, cloud computing can actually improve an organization's overall security, be it a public or private sector firm.

As for the financial side of the equation, the study noted that the federal government could potentially save almost $19 billion annually by migrating more of its services and applications to cloud-based environments, according to MeriTalk. 

Cultural barriers may be more difficult to overcome. The report noted that 44 percent of federal CIOs, CFOs and other IT officials are somewhat or very uncomfortable with the idea of handing off IT services and applications to cloud vendors. 

"A number of agencies have demonstrated significant willingness to put their trust in cloud operations."

Forward thinkers
However, it is important to note that not every federal decision-maker or agency shares these views. The report also noted that a number of agencies, such as NASA, have demonstrated significantly more willingness to put their trust in cloud operations. NASA in particular has moved more than 150 of its applications into cloud spaces. Additionally, both the CIA and Department of Defense have invested heavily in cloud migration projects. 

For IT leaders in other departments, the task before them is determining how to convince other stakeholders and decision-makers of the need to look to the cloud for their IT infrastructure needs. To this end, it may be useful to consider how individual states have approached the issue of cloud adoption. As Tech Republic highlighted, state governments have demonstrated a much greater willingness to fully embrace the cloud than federal agencies.

Kentucky CIO Kent Fowler noted that the state aims to have 80 percent or more of its infrastructure in the cloud within five to seven years, according to the source. And California has leverage the cloud to increase its storage capabilities by 300 percent while simultaneously reducing costs in this area by 35 percent.

While a state's cloud success cannot definitively serve as a model for a federal agency, these results should be enough to show federal IT decision-makers that the cloud is indeed the future, and the sooner they embrace hosted solutions, the better. And the best way for federal departments to successfully integrate this technology is to work closely with an experienced third-party solution provider that can guide this process from beginning to end.