Does Moving to the Cloud work for the US Federal Government?
The Federal government’s relationship with cloud computing have always been a topic of interest on this website. Over the last months, I have covered this area in considerable detail. However, but for the slight hint of skepticism, the articles have been largely positive about cloud computing and the Federal government’s efforts to embrace this new technology. However, today, I adopt a slightly critical tone and discuss some issues that have been raised, issues that say cloud computing’s benefits have been largely exaggerated.
Most of the Federal government’s enthusiasm about cloud computing have largely been an outcome of recently-departed Chief Information Officer (CIO) Vivek Kundra’s faith in the technology (The Architect of the Official Cloud Computing Revolution – CIO Vivek Kundra ). It was under his stewardship that the government released the official Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in February 2011 that stated “Cloud computing can significantly improve public sector IT”, and outlined the way to go about it.
However, the fact that not all government officials were in agreement was brought forth by a survey conducted by research firm Ovum that found that about 46% of government officials believed that cloud computing will not save their agencies enough money to make using it worthwhile. In other words, the very people tasked with implementing the cloud strategy in government seem to doubt its efficacy (See: Update: What Do Government Officials Think Of Cloud Computing? ). Now, it would be easy to dismiss such opinions as typical bureaucratic resistance to change; however, it makes sense to examine them in detail before dismissing them outright.
Now, these concerns can be broadly classified under the following two categories – cost and security. I will analyze these categorized concerns one by one:
Cost: Projected cost savings have been the main driving point of the Federal cloud initiative (See: How Much Can the US Government Save by Going to the Cloud? ). However, many believe that the cost of transitioning from the current IT infrastructure to the cloud will entail costs now that would far outweigh any savings that may result in the future. Teri Takai, former CIO of the state of California and present CIO of the Defense Department, has gone on record as saying, “The community that feels that moving to cloud computing is cheaper hasn’t fully explored what the costs of cloud computing are and what the challenges of cloud computing are.”
Security: Now, security has always been a major bugbear for cloud computing, and multiple incidents in the recent past haven’t improved the situation (See: Should You Be Concerned? A List of Recent Cloud Computing Failures – Intuit goes down ). In July, the Pentagon suffered its largest breach, in which hackers obtained 24,000 confidential files, an operation suspected to be carried out by foreign intelligence. In this regard, several government departments, especially those like Defense, State and Homeland Security that deal with confidential information, have found themselves hesitant to place their faith in cloud computing. As Ms. Takai pointed out, “with the increasing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks on defense systems, we are concerned with any new approaches that can introduce new risks.” While she did believe in the possibilities of cloud computing, she would rather have the chinks worked out before supporting its adoption in departments dealing with critical data. That is why other departments can help by embracing cloud computing and helping to remove its shortcomings.
In conclusion, these issues definitely need to be addressed. The mechanism of government is quite different from industry, and hence, a customized solution is required. Until that is available, official reluctance is not only expected, but to some extent, justified.
By Sourya Biswas