Cloud-computing success depends on knowing what to ask

Government certification and compliance requirements don't mesh well with cloud computing

Prior to adopting cloud-computing technology, federal agencies should perform risk assessments that look at which services, applications and data can be hosted on a cloud infrastructure, according to an expert who spoke at a Digital Government Institute cloud-computing conference.

Agencies should first examine which services delivered internally and to the public can be hosted by a cloud-computing system, said Gregory Garcia, president of Garcia Strategies and the former assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at the Homeland Security Department.

Agencies need to answer a series of questions that include: What do we put in the cloud? Which services, applications and data do we keep in our control? And, what are the rules and policies by which those applications, services and data will be implemented?

"Once we have those definitions, then I think we can develop a risk approach to determining what the security architecture ought to be for those mission-critical systems," Garcia said on Feb 2.

"Then we can apply the right technologies, procedures and training for cloud computing," he said. "That ensures that those who are in the business of government are going to meet their mission-critical needs and the public is going to be best served."

However, one of cloud computing's most attractive features—the ability to pool resources—could be the biggest impediment to implementing the technology for the federal government, according to Peter Mell, the senior computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Division.

Marrying a cloud infrastructure with traditional certification, accreditation and compliance requirements federal agencies must follow is difficult, Mell said.

"If you take 40 agencies and put them on the same system, do you think that they are going to intersect perfectly?" Mell said. "No, the registry settings among many agencies will not be compatible."

That creates the potential for enormous duplication of work and wasted money if each agency has to go it alone, he said.

To remedy the situation, agencies should work together to agree which security controls should exist for cloud-computing systems and what variables there should be for the security controls, Mell said.

"That will let us create a program by which cloud systems can then be authorized for the entire government to use," he said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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