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Cloud or Cloudy? Government’s Transition to Cloud Offerings

cloudy sky with sunThe Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has required Federal agencies to adopt a “Cloud First” approach to evaluating options for new IT deployments.  This was born out of the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management by Vivek Kundra, who was the US Chief Information Officer at the time this report was released.  The goal of the government in recent years has been to consolidate data centers to become more streamlined and hopefully more efficient and cost effective at the same time.  Cloud is one of the strategies recommended.

So why is Cloud a good idea for the government?  We can understand why private companies use Cloud.  It offers companies an ability to release products faster while doing it at a lower cost.  Seeing these benefits realized by the private sector, the federal government concluded that moving to this technology would be more beneficial in the long run.  The government could become more scalable, more agile and lower its overall infrastructure cost.  But are there any storm clouds on the horizon?

Cloud or Cloudy?

Agencies like the one I support have already moved forward with implementing Cloud.  Quickly organizations are realizing that some Cloud offerings may not be cheaper initially than in-house solutions they currently have.  However, the expectation is the Cloud will be cheaper over time as more components join, though, in some cases the answer to the $M question has a lengthy time horizon.  Another major concern is the level of service that a component will receive. Components are used to having immediate responses from their internal vendors.  However, with the Cloud they are not seeing response times they expected since the vendor is external and resides with another organization, like a parent department.

Will the parent department’s Cloud vendor be able to handle all the requests from all the components or will there be a loss in service response time?  Some of these questions are hard to answer because only now are components moving over to the Cloud and over time components will be able to see if there is a loss in service.  One issue they predict already is the need to give up control.  GAO released a report in 2010 recommending organizations take into consideration the loss of control when moving to the Cloud.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

Like the rain “comin down on a sunny day” in the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, the success of Cloud may depend on where you’re standing.   Some offerings seem to be a “slam dunk” decision to move to the Cloud, showing an immediate cost savings like Email or SharePoint.  But other offerings such as Infrastructure as a Service or Development and Testing as a Service may be more difficult to judge because there are many more variables that must be considered in moving to certain Cloud offerings.

A major obstacle I witnessed is the issue with software and hardware licenses.  For example your Cloud vendor offers you a suite of items but cannot provide a necessary license because it is offered by another company.  Your agency must still purchase this license and then upload it into your Cloud.   These costs are not calculated into your “Cloud cost.”  In my experience I’m also seeing organizations looking outside of the parent organization’s Cloud vendor and finding other sources that can offer better deals over a clearer time horizon.

Sunshine through the Clouds

Overall moving to the Cloud makes a lot of sense.  With this era of budget uncertainty it is vital that the government find avenues to be more cost effective in the long run.  It is also vital the government becomes more flexible and agile in this new era of technology. As we know, what is new today is already outdated tomorrow.  The federal government has been criticized for not adopting new technologies quickly.  Vivek Kundra recognized this when presenting the 25 Point plan.  He wanted to show government organizations that it is time to change how the government does business.  Now all they need to do is sell that idea to all the agencies.

If your agency is considering or is moving to the Cloud I recommend asking the following questions:

  • Have you looked at the overall cost of moving to the Cloud?
  • Have you performed a Life Cycle Cost Estimate (LCCE)?
  • Have you considered what services you will get versus what services you currently have?
  • Should you shop for Cloud services and compare what is offered by different companies?

Many questions still remain but organizations are feeling the pressure to move to the Cloud immediately. Will these organizations be able to do their research on the cost of Cloud and at the same time adhere to the mandate to move to the Cloud when it is feasible?  I believe moving to the Cloud is a good plan for the government but without proper research it carries risk of failure.  What do you think?