After email moves to the cloud, then what?
Not all cloud transitions are created equal
It might not be as simple as just moving applications to the cloud, but choosing what applications to move is the first major decision most agencies face when implementing cloud computing.
Respondents to MeriTalk’s recent “Cloudy with a Chance of Savings” survey ranked collaboration tools and e-mail as the top two applications to move, followed by such things as administrative applications and conferencing software. The ranking differed slightly depending on the sector of government surveyed, with Defense Department respondents favoring administrative apps and civilians more likely to say conferencing software is a key cloud application.
E-mail is probably the most common so-called low-hanging fruit that most agencies look at for their first cloud deployment, agreed Tom Simmons, area vice president of the U.S. Public Sector at Citrix Systems, but every move requires the same policy considerations around such things as security and data access and privacy.
“And then there are the things that many might not think of, such as whether you need a local iteration of MS Office or something else to open an XML spreadsheet attached to a Gmail message,” he said. “It’s those kinds of considerations that require drilling down into the implementation details of the cloud.”
One area that has been an afterthought in the past but is now at the forefront in many people’s minds is how well the cloud will perform in delivering service to agency users. After all, it’s no good providing less costly cloud services if they perform more slowly or less reliably than workers have been used to with applications delivered from their desktop systems or through the agency data center.
Because of that, said Jo Ramachandran, senior segment manager at Level 3 Communications, a lot of thought has to be put into how agencies connect to the cloud. Different applications will have different requirements and will put different demands on the network, so sometimes connecting through the Internet will be fine but at other times a dedicated connection will be needed.
“As the cloud becomes more mature, agency IT departments see it as less problematic to use the cloud for storage and processing needs and it’s becoming more of a standard resource for them,” said Mike Anderson, product marketing manager at Level 3 Communications. “But there’s still a challenge because of the dynamic nature of cloud use, and there’s sometimes a tendency for them to overlook the importance of having reliable network connectivity.”
Most agency cloud deployments today are of the low-risk variety, such as e-mail, software as a service and what’s needed for public-facing websites, said David McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.
But “we don’t see a mad march in them taking mission-critical applications and systems and offloading them into a cloud environment,” he said in a March keynote speech to a meeting of the Cloud Standards Customer Council.
As a technology person, Simmons said, he would say that anything could potentially move to the cloud and that, apart from some government-specific applications that have been around for years, it comes down to a financial and operational decision on the part of the agency about what and what not to move.
“But it does require discipline, and realistically we are a long, long, long way from seeing something such as aircraft-tracking systems or the tax system going to the cloud,” he said. “And there are many legacy DOD systems that we can’t seem to retire that also won’t migrate to the cloud in the foreseeable future.”