Shared clouds likely to gain prevalence in 2015

Now that cloud integration is firmly established as a guiding IT principle among government agencies at the federal level, the next step is determining how and to what extent organizations will embrace this technology. As a general rule, agency leaders recognize the value that cloud services have to offer and are eager to take advantage of these resources, but the ideal strategy to achieve this goal remains a topic of discussion.

One strategy that is likely to gain greater attention in the coming months is cloud sharing. As NextGov recently highlighted, these cloud systems may ultimately resemble utility grids, enabling government bodies to take advantage of major economies of scale.

Cloud for all
The news source went so far as to claim that cloud computing may soon be viewed as the fifth type of utility grid, joining electricity, natural gas, water and sewage. This approach will benefit not just federal agencies, but a wide range of organizations and individuals.

The concept is fairly straightforward, as NextGov explained.

"The more servers are aggregated, the more the fixed costs of individual data centers (e.g. real estate, security, lighting and cleaning) can be spread across all who have bought into the cloud," the source noted. "The more those fixed costs are spread around, the more an agency will see the cost-per-unit of server space decrease."

Just as important as this overall dip in cost is the potential to handle usage spikes without over-investing in cloud capabilities the rest of the year. The source pointed to the IRS as the most obvious example of this concept in action. According to NextGov, IRS server traffic increases to as much as 63 percent above the norm around April 15.  Less predictably, FEMA saw its traffic increase dramatically in the days around Hurricane Sandy.

In both cases, cloud computing represents a powerful tool for delivering services without breaking budgets. With the cloud, organizations can scale up their capabilities on an as-needed basis, rather than over-investing in solutions that would remain dormant for all but the busiest periods. Cloud sharing efforts go even further, maximizing efficiency while minimizing the time needed to spin up additional servers in the event of a traffic spike.

Working together
With this trend seeming all but inevitable at this point, it is time for agency leaders to develop plans to thrive in shared cloud environments. 

This may be easier said than done. Even on an individual level, cloud integration is a complex issue, one that many agencies have struggled with in recent months. Arguably the single greatest issue in this context is cybersecurity. Specifically, agencies need to ensure that their cloud services remain compliant with all relevant security standards and that no sensitive data is at risk of loss or exposure while being stored, moved or utilized within cloud environments.

This task has the potential to become far more complicated when agencies are sharing cloud resources with one another. After all, not every agency is beholden to the same cybersecurity standards or compliance regulations. Departments will need to develop robust, stringent plans to ensure that they can continue to meet their data protection requirements even while tapping into a cloud resource that is also used by a less security-conscious entity.

To handle this difficult issue, agencies likely should turn to third-party cloud integration specialists for assistance. These consulting firms can help government agencies navigate the tricky issues that cloud computing, and especially shared cloud resources, can present, all while ensuring that departments experience the maximum possible value from their cloud usage.