Early trail blazers prove cloud computing can work for government
Army, GSA, Recovery.gov, USDA blaze a trail into the cloud
In December 2010, the General Services Administration announced it was moving 17,000 employees and contractors from a series of 17 fragmented, disparate e-mail systems onto a single cloud-based platform: Google Apps. About the same time, the Agriculture Department moved 120,000 users from its on-premises e-mail and productivity applications to the cloud. In this case, it was Microsoft Online Services including Microsoft Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. The savings were about $27 million due to consolidation of about 21 different systems.
In May 2010, Recovery.gov, a public website that helps people track spending under the economic stimulus law, moved to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud infrastructure-as-a-service platform, saving about $750,000, all of which was funneled back into the mission to fight fraud. As these examples demonstrate, the government is seeing significant adoption of and benefits from the cloud. And with the February release of the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, the list is only going to get longer as CIOs and IT executives move toward the goals of consolidating data centers and shifting from an asset ownership mentality to a service provisioning mentality by leveraging cloud computing.
“We have, for the first time, a federal CIO who has cloud at the top of his agenda,” said Deniece Peterson, senior manager of federal industry analysis at research and market intelligence firm Input. “Vivek Kundra is putting forth an aggressive timeline, and agencies are going about things slowly looking at low-risk areas and deploying the cloud with care.”
The success of the cloud in the government sector might be surprising to some because most agencies don’t have a great track record when it comes to projects that use new or emerging technologies, with many failing or going over budget before results could be realized. However, the cloud strategy is different because there’s proven technology in place, a mandate to shut down 800 federal data centers by 2015, and a streamlined process to get cloud vendors of all sizes certified as providers. There’s also the cloud-first policy that states that every agency looking for new technology must evaluate the cloud first. Finally, there’s also a need to have more transparency on spending and a greater awareness of budgets, said Geoff Weber, a principal at KPMG’s federal practice. The combination of which, he said, creates a perfect storm for the cloud.
In fact, according to a speech by Kundra in February, agencies across the government have identified at least three systems that can and will move to the cloud during the next 18 months. “These are not just simple systems, but these are going to be systems that are core to the workflow of these agencies. And these are systems that are going to be disruptive in terms of budget savings,” he explained.
For example, at the Army, users moved to a Salesforce.com implementation that costs the government $54,000. Another bid for an on-premises system came in at more than $1 million. However, the real benefit was that recruiters at the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia are able to track recruits who participate in simulations and connect with them via social networking channels that include Facebook and e-mail.
Government IT executives are also seeing benefits as they shift from traditional infrastructure to infrastructure as a service, Weber said. “Telecom, storage, processing are easy to implement, and take the burden of provisioning, maintenance and training out of the hands of the IT staff and put it in the hands of the cloud provider.” This reduces cost of service, but it also helps the government standardize on technology that may have been out of reach in the past, he said.