COMMENTARY

Migration to cloud won't happen without leadership

Sterling Phillips, CEO of GTSI, served on the Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud.

TechAmerica's Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud has released its final report and recommendations for public- and private-sector cloud utilization. Reports and recommendations are as common as traffic jams in the nation's capital, but this report is one that truly deserves to be noticed.

Cloud computing is not just another tech cycle or trend; it is a transformational paradigm for IT resource management that offers a more efficient and enlightened alternative to traditional and ingrained concepts of data management and IT ownership.

Cloud computing is complex and yet simple at the same time. There are countless cloud configurations and strategies, but all share three elements that should interest government and industry alike.Cloud computing:

  • Reduces direct and indirect costs by making more efficient use of resources.
  • Increases efficiency and performance without sacrificing security.
  • Provides true elasticity, scale and reliability.

Further, public-sector cloud strategies allow agencies to shift increasing technology requirements from scarce capital budgets to the operations and maintenance side of the ledger, potentially simplifying acquisition. And the government need only pay for what it consumes.

So what's not to like?

As with anything transformational and new, current acquisition and IT management practices — in the public and private sectors alike — are not ideally suited to fit cloud computing. But as TechAmerica's report illustrates, this legacy IT landscape necessarily will change and change faster than most now imagine. Tight budgets will dictate it; increasing user and taxpayer requirements will demand it. This may be especially true for state governments, where balanced annual budgets are mandatory and where the need for significant savings without sacrificing performance is especially acute.

TechAmerica's report stands as a solid and welcome contribution to the exploding but still embryonic world of cloud computing. Its inclusion of a "buyer's guide" for agencies is the best effort yet to provide a single-source "how to" view of standards, support, acquisition advice and vehicles.

Furthermore, its issuance of fundamental, guidepost recommendations, built on the advice and input of knowledgeable public- and private-sector IT professionals, provides focus for the debate on standards, protocols and processes. Of particular note to the public sector are two recommendations.

First, Congress should establish incentives that encourage agencies to implement cloud deployments and take advantage of the resultant performance and cost efficiencies. These incentives could include a portion of budget savings from cloud adoption to be retained by agencies for the current or following fiscal year. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) has already introduced legislation for this purpose.

Second, the government should accelerate development of an identity management and access control ecosystem led by the private sector, as envisioned by the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Secure access control and data management are at the core of resistance in the public sector against cloud deployments.

The bottom line is that cloud computing is here to stay, and it will fundamentally change IT infrastructure ownership and management for the better. Cloud migration strategies give public- and private-sector organizations alike great performance and cost advantages. Obstacles exist because legacy environments carry cultural and process biases that are not easy to shake. The speed with which cloud adoption occurs is directly related to leadership in meeting these obstacles. And it is to that end that TechAmerica's cloud commission makes a significant contribution.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 Jim

Hello Sterling,
You make a number of convincing arguments for taking IT to the cloud. In terms of cost savings and budgetary flexibility it is certainly an excellent strategy. I want to ask your opinion about the incentives going through congress and if you have any insight into the guidelines (if any) that have been established for types of eligible system migrations.

There is a trend, in various markets, that is calling for all systems (legacy or otherwise) to move to an IT environment. By extension, many of the legacy systems that have IP enabled devices and remote access capabilities are being positioned as candidates for cloud deployment. These systems include SCADA networks, which are probably not the direct focus of this government effort but could be lumped into an IT bucket and chosen for cloud migration.
It has been argued that SCADA systems should never see the cloud as the internet was never designed to be a secure environment. Does congress have any sort of limitation in place that establishes a review process for cloud migration candidates?

Thanks for your thoughts.

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