According to the opening summary of a January 2015 Congressional Research Service report, since 2009, the federal government has been migrating towards cloud based services. Officials hope the decision to embrace cloud computing will increase an organization's or department's accessibility, efficiency, innovation and security, among other benefits. The push toward the cloud was further strengthened late in 2010, when Vivek Kundra, the country's first chief information officer, released the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.
That plan's introduction said the federal government had minimal productivity improvements despite a nearly $600 billion IT budget. Kundra arguably was the architect of the current "cloud-first" mentality of various government departments. Since then, it has been interesting to see how agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense have implemented cloud-based solutions.
Private clouds preferred
Federal agencies find it easier to implement a private cloud according to CRS's report. Private models are more secure and still allow for great control over data – two areas highly important for federal adoption.
Costs are also a big factor for cloud adoption. According to the 25 Point Plan, too many agencies were running over budget, not meeting expectations or falling behind schedule. Implementing a cloud solution will take time, from research and testing to implementation. However, the cloud is a cost-effective solution. CRS highlighted how, for the 2012 fiscal year, the Treasury Department estimated most of its data centers would be idle nearly one-third of the time. A cloud solution solves this, as departments and agencies will only use as much infrastructure, storage and computing power as needed.
The total cost of migrating to the cloud widely varies as a result of departments' different needs. The Department of Defense, with a budget of $496.1 billion and 718,00 civilian employees would demand much more from a cloud service than the Postal Regulatory Commission, for instance. However, cloud solutions were projected to bring in savings of nearly 50 percent.
Of all the government agencies, NASA has become perhaps the most willing to embrace the cloud. In 2009, the space agency built its own private cloud, nicknamed Nebula. This infrastructure helped with sending the rover Curiosity to Mars in 2012.
The DOD is also looking at ways to revamp its cloud strategy, especially to cater to younger employees. According to InformationWeek contributor Henry Kenyon, an emphasis is being placed on mobility, and this is difficult to achieve if data is locked away from employees. Infrastructure-as-a-service solutions are often ideal homes to store the tools needed to emphasize a mobile mindset. Some agencies may be hesitant to store important data in the cloud, but the DOD is once again showing how reliable the cloud is by taking the steps to store classified materials in a hosted environment. InformationWeek contributor Jai Vijayan said the department is interested in virtualization management, object and block storage systems and workloads. To help meet its goal, the DOD is exploring two options to guard Level 5 and Level 6 data, best described as the military's most sensitive data.
The first option is the data center leasing model. This method would see the DOD working with a cloud provider to lease server space in a DOD data center. The second option is the on-premise container model. Here, a cloud provider would deliver its service via containerized data centers.
Future of government cloud computing
Though some federal agencies are openly embracing cloud solutions, others are not. According to a May 2015 report from the Congressional Cloud Computing Caucus, $58 billion of the government's 2015 IT spending goes towards maintaining legacy systems. That is 73 percent of the $79 billion budget. To help encourage faster adoption, the committee offered suggestions. Among those suggestions were:
- enforcing cloud-project deadlines
- increasing the transparency of cloud spending
- enticing agencies to use the cloud by increasing incentives
- increasing resources at the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program
The cloud is an ideal service for government agencies because of the flexibility it offers. Some agencies may only want to virtualize servers while others may want to migrate entire operations. Any department within the federal government will see the benefits of cloud computing.