CIOs to the cloud: Let's not rush into things

The federal government’s migration to cloud computing is no longer in question. But that doesn’t mean agencies will rush into it and treat every situation as a foregone conclusion.

In some ways, the decision-making process has gotten more complicated as federal CIOs learn about the nuances of cloud computing.

For example, in the early days of the cloud, it was a question of go or no-go. Now agencies must decide which model is most appropriate for them: private (government only), public (commercially available) or hybrid. And that decision depends on the specifics of an agency’s application, said David McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“How [the cloud] meets the requirements that stakeholders are putting in place is really the challenge we’re sorting through right now,” he said.

McClure and Robert Carey, deputy CIO at the Defense Department, offered their perspectives during a panel discussion on April 3 at the FOSE Conference in Washington, D.C. The event is organized by 1105 Media, the parent company of Federal Computer Week.

At DOD, decisions about migrating systems to the cloud must be made in light of the department’s larger goals.

DOD is seeking to homogenize its computing environment, a task Carey said is a tall order. A more uniform network architecture across the four main military services would provide DOD with better security and enhanced access to information “from any device, any time, anywhere around the planet,” he said.

“I’m trying to connect some guys walking around Kandahar or the Helmand province [in Afghanistan] with the same information and expectations you and I might have,” Carey said. “That end of the information chain is just as important as — or more important [than] — stratifying things back here.”

At the end of that effort to create a more homogeneous computing environment lies the migration to a cloud environment, which will include a mix of cloud models. Although the department will manage its own cloud environment, DOD officials will look to commercial cloud providers to bridge the gap between demand and capacity, Carey said.

Some DOD components, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, already operate in a cloud environment, at least to some extent. But DOD as a whole has taken “a very deliberate pace” to make that transition because of its vast size, Carey said.

While DOD is taking baby steps toward the cloud, the civilian side has already seen “hundreds, maybe thousands” of successful implementations, primarily in infrastructure as a service and software as a service, McClure said.

“[Cloud computing] is a technology trend that’s inevitable; it’s not as though anyone can completely stick their head in the sand and say, ‘I’ll wait for...the next thing to come,’” he said.

Nevertheless, agencies have mandates and requirements that influence their decisions. In an ideal situation, agencies would embrace the notion of locationless computing that commercial cloud providers can offer, with information available to anyone, anywhere at anytime. But it’s not that simple.

“This theory of locationless computing still has to meet the requirements the government puts on it, and in some cases, as we’ve discovered, solutions can’t be locationless,” McClure said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Reader comments

Thu, Apr 5, 2012

I was struck that the cost-benefit analysis of cloud computing was not discussed. If care is not exercised cloud computing (non- private models) can become a money pit. Having been a Federal CIO for years and now a CIO in the private sector, “cloud” computing should not be viewed as a forgone conclusion as some would like to suggest. Federal CIOs must be armed with good cost information on current operational cost and operational efficiency. For example, the system (application) should be assessed to determine whether it is operating efficiently. Good operational metrics and adherence to “best practices” are good indicators. At a minimum this assessment will be needed to ensure an agency is not moving an inefficient AND costly operation to a cloud provider. Whether the provider cost model is based on seats (e.g. email), processors/storage, etc., Agencies need the information to adequately assess the price/performance of cloud providers. Otherwise they can be stepping into a commitment that will eventually be a shock to their ever shrinking IT budgets. Also, this information is critical for negotiating SLAs with cloud providers. In closing, I am equally struck at the pell-mell push by GSA and others to push agencies—ready or not-- to private sector cloud vendors. And help me here—when the speaker stated that “In an ideal situation, agencies would embrace the notion of locationless computing that commercial cloud providers can offer, with information available to anyone, anywhere at anytime.” Some federal agencies that have been more proactive in this area have been providing this “locationless” capability for over 20 years. Moreover, the Federal Government is certainly capable of establishing its own “cloud” services at a not-for-profit rate. It was not that long ago that NIH provided exceptional – low cost and high quality service “aka time-sharing” facility. So rather than a mandate to go to the cloud--better policy and guidance on how and when the cloud should be pursued from the likes of OMB and GSA would better serve Federal CIOs.

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