Highlighting some lessons learned by federal cloud users

Cloud computing icon

A study released Jan. 28 by Meritalk highlights the pros and cons of federal cloud adoption since the Office of Management and Budget’s “Cloud First” policy mandated just over three years ago that agencies begin migrating services.

The study is full of interesting tidbits from 15 federal IT leaders who have executed cloud migrations, but the general consensus is that while change is a challenge, cloud computing is the real deal in terms of savings and efficiencies improvements.

But cloud success and mastery – as with any other IT challenge –comes only from hard work and intelligent management practices.

“If we had defined our expectations when we started, it would be easier to answer whether the benefits from our cloud computing initiative were less than or greater than expected,” said Daniel McCrae, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Services Delivery Division.

NOAA was an early and successful adopter, moving its email and emergency messaging system to the cloud. The move cut costs and improved communication at the agency. The report puts hard numbers to some cloud projects, too. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives moved its email to the cloud, resulting in $1 million in annual savings, according to CIO Rick Holgate.

Shawn Kingsberry, CIO of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said RATB migrated to infrastructure-as-a-service on a public cloud, with a direct savings of $854,800 over two years. The Department of Agriculture’s combination of private and public cloud adoption has it primed to save $75 million over three years.

Even with successes, CIOs and other federal IT leaders said lessons learned over previous experiences will shape how they handle more intensive cloud efforts.

“Do the math, do the science, do the engineering. Develop a real business case. Start with functional requirements related to the mission. If the numbers don’t make sense, don’t do it. You won’t see real economies of scale or efficiencies, you will just be checking off a box,” McCrae said.

Cloud isn’t a buzzword anymore, but it’s not easy, either. As agencies go beyond removing the low-hanging fruit in IT, cloud projects will only get tougher. Yet some of the early successes provide a roadmap for what works and what doesn’t. And don’t expect evolving technology to do the work for you, as many of the federal IT leaders remarked. 

“Take a good, long, hard look at the service you are looking to move,” said Walter Bigelow, chief of the IT Systems Management Division at ATF. “Do a full legitimate audit of that service so you know what’s involved – and how much it really costs you. Do a comparison to the cloud offerings that are out there and make an informed management decision. Speak to your peers.”

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Wed, Jan 29, 2014

"If the numbers don’t make sense, don’t do it." Yeah right. That's not how it works in the federal government. It will be a government wide directive that won't allow deciding whether or not it makes sense. Someone in the government will want a promotion and spearheading the headlong push to the cloud could provide just the boost. Then we will all be forced to move to the cloud and the report to the media will be a resounding success. It is preordained. Seen this movie before.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above