Feds begin race to the cloud

Tasked with adopting cloud computing as a first option in all IT projects, federal agencies are now grappling with the hard realities of making the policy work.

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Kingsberry's agency moved its Recovery.gov website to Amazon.com's EC2 cloud service in April 2010. He says the agency decided to make the leap after successfully using the cloud for testing, although IT leaders at the agency still performed a rigorous analysis before making the move. They considered, among other factors, how cloud computing would fare in terms of performance, cost and security.

So far, the cloud has delivered, says Kingsberry. Using cloud services saved about $750,000 in the first year for Recovery.gov, a site for sharing data and information related to the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Kingsberry says he expects more savings in the future, since the site will be able to scale up without requiring investments in new hardware.

"Obviously, one of the key drivers behind the federal government [cloud initiative] is Vivek Kundra's [push] for cost-cutting," says JP Morgenthal, cloud evangelist at Smartronix, a Hollywood, Md.-based consultancy that helped the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board move Recovery.gov to the cloud.

Big Bucks on the Line

The amount of money at stake is significant. In its "Federal Cloud Weather Report," released in April, MeriTalk, a social network for government IT professionals, found that cloud implementations could produce $14.4 billion in savings in the first year.

The report, which was underwritten by virtualization vendor VMware, also found that 64% of the 167 federal CIOs and IT managers surveyed in January expect cloud computing to both reduce costs and improve service.

In his Feb. 8, 2011, "Federal Cloud Computing Strategy" report, Kundra listed other benefits beyond cost containment. He said the cloud could create a more agile, responsive and scalable infrastructure that would support more collaboration and innovation -- the same factors that nongovernment IT leaders cite as reasons for moving to the cloud.

Several government projects have already yielded such returns.

The U.S. Treasury Department moved its public-facing websites, including Treasury.gov, to Amazon cloud services earlier this year, with help from Smartronix. Morgenthal says the move enabled the site to be more flexible and scalable.

Analysts point to other cloud initiatives that are yielding cost reductions and service improvements.

"Certainly the migration of USA.gov to a private cloud hosted by Terremark [now part of Verizon], as well as the early cloud development at DISA [the Defense Information Systems Agency] and at NASA, are great examples," Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio said in an email.

DISA's development of the Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE) cloud infrastructure is an example of a successful government cloud initiative, agrees Deniece Peterson, a federal industry analyst at Deltek, a Herndon, Va.-based enterprise software vendor whose customers include federal agencies and government contractors. Other successful cloud projects include the U.S. Army's deployment of Salesforce.com and the Customs and Border Protection agency's use of cloud for its customer relationship management application, she adds.

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