Feds Begin Race to the Cloud

Agencies are now grappling with the hard realities of making the 'cloud first' policy work.

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Public, Private or Hybrid

Analysts say that government agencies, like their private-sector counterparts, are trying all of the cloud options to see which models work best in certain situations.

Government entities that are implementing cloud computing are primarily doing so in one of three ways, according to Marie Francesca, director of engineering operations, and Geoff Raines, senior principal software systems engineer, at The Mitre Corp., a government contractor based in Arlington, Va.

One is to use commercial services such as those offered by Amazon and Google. Examples include the migrations of Treasury.gov and Recovery.gov to Amazon's cloud service.

The second is to share services within the government, where one agency acts as a service provider for others. Examples of this are DISA's RACE system and NASA's Nebula.

The third option is to build a private cloud for an organization's exclusive use.

Francesca and Raines point out that government CIOs have such diverse systems that they can legitimately use any of those approaches, depending on the needs of the applications and data slated for migration to the cloud.

The General Services Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are helping federal agencies with their cloud computing moves, according to Francesca and Raines.

The GSA is setting up contract vehicles and schedules that will allow agencies to purchase commercial cloud services in a quicker and more uniform way, they explain. The website Apps.gov will provide a central point for information on this initiative. They say the GSA had already been providing federal agencies with a uniform mechanism for handling other types of contractors.

Meanwhile, NIST is defining cloud concepts, identifying standards and organizing security research.

Despite such guidance, the reality is that many federal entities aren't yet moving to the cloud.

According to MeriTalk's report, 79% of federal CIOs said their agencies aren't adopting the cloud-first policy, and only 64% are planning to embrace that approach in the next two years.

Moreover, at the time of the survey, only 17% of the federal CIOs were using infrastructure as a service, while 15% were using software as a service and 13% were using platform as a service. However, 20% said they were planning to move to infrastructure as a service, 22% were planning to start using software as a service, and 19% said they had a platform-as-a-service project in the works.

Support for the initiative continues even though Kundra left his CIO post in August to take a fellowship at Harvard University.

"Vivek is the visionary guy, but the next step now is really around policy and governance," says Morgenthal. "These are less visionary and more detail-oriented, so in certain regards, it's good timing, so whoever comes in next can be more structured and eliminate those hurdles."

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