Cloud Fears Are Overblown, Says U.S. CIO

Kundra contends that security concerns are exaggerated in part to discourage competition.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn't afraid of the public cloud.

Indeed, DHS CIO Richard Spires said the agency is seeking a cloud computing provider to host public websites run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

And, he added, the department's use of public cloud technology is likely to grow.

Spires predicted that several other government agencies will be turning to the cloud and trust providers to handle more and more sensitive information in the coming years, particularly as the government moves to create a cloud security certification system.

"I am a believer that we are going to, over the next few years, really solve a lot of the cybersecurity concerns that we have with cloud-based services," said Spires.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who has made cloud adoption a priority for federal agencies since his appointment in early 2009, suggested that many of the security fears that have to date discouraged widespread government use of cloud services are exaggerated.

"A lot of people are sort of driving this notion of fear around security," Kundra said during a Washington forum on cloud computing held late last month. "And the reason I think that's been amplified, frankly, is because it preserves the status quo."

Also, Kundra said, "the federal government, for some crazy reasons, has tried to treat every IT system like it is a national security system."

That's not necessary, he said, noting that the site, which tracks spending of funds allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is hosted by's EC2 cloud. "That's public data -- there's no reason to build a fortress around that and treat it like it's a CIA or NSA system," he said.

As Kundra moves to allay concerns about hosted services, more and more agencies are looking at options for running applications in the cloud.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, is weeks away from completing a move of 120,000 users to a Microsoft hosted email and collaboration platform. The USDA had been running 27 separate email systems.

The department estimates that the cloud migration will result in savings of about $6 million per year, according to USDA CIO Chris Smith.

Meanwhile, some vendors are looking to address security concerns by creating government-specific cloud services that meet stringent federal security requirements. These offerings could include physically separate data centers.

Kundra, who is leaving his post this month, said his team has taken a number of steps to increase the cloud options available to agencies. For example, they set up the portal.

Created in 2009, provides agency IT departments with information on cloud technologies and vendors that have been approved by the General Services Administration.

One of the advantages of the site is that it gives "a small startup the same chance to engage with the federal government that a tech titan has," said Kundra, who explained that government contracts have traditionally been won by vendors who understand the procurement process "better than the technology they are deploying." That situation, he said, has led to the rise of something akin to an .

Executives from venture-backed firms are now presenting their wares and services to government CIOs, Kundra reported.

Kundra and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) organized the forum, which was attended by the CIOs of several government agencies.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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