Simple advice for tackling the complexities of cloud

Shutterstock image: cloud hands.

CIOs puzzling over the tangle of services, contracting issues and other complexities that encircle the ongoing federal adoption of cloud services should keep a simple thought in mind, said one agency IT manager.

That thought is "understand your consumer," said Robert King, program manager for IT systems modernization and integration at the Department of Homeland Security. Combined with a solid grasp of the agency's overall goals, that knowledge goes a long way in deciding how best to adopt cloud capabilities.

According to King and others who participated in a Dec. 9 panel discussion on application modernization and cloud services, federal agencies are still on a learning curve for cloud adoption. Experience is limited, and in many cases, there's a "build the airplane as we're rolling down the runway" approach, King said.

Operating in a cloud-hosted, multi-tenant environment takes some getting used to, he added. Actions by one tenant can easily affect another, and change management can present challenges. He said his team developed a night caching application for one of his cloud-hosted data warehouses only to find that the application broke another tenant's dashboard.

Such situations demand some coordination among users because "the elasticity isn't there yet" for cloud services to coexist seamlessly, he said.

The list of complexities that can trip up agency IT managers is long, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology is identifying some common approaches to solutions, said Eric Simmon, a NIST systems expert and co-chairman of the agency's Cloud Computing Forensic Science Working Group. Toward that end, the agency unveiled the final version of the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap in October. It lists 10 requirements for cloud adoption, each of which has a list of priority action plans and target completion dates.

Such efforts are helpful, but the panelists agreed that agencies are still grappling with the many technical and policy issues that cloud adoption has pushed to the surface.

Take, for example, the "inside" and "outside" brokers who handle cloud implementation issues within the agency and with vendors, said Curtis Levinson, U.S. cyber defense adviser to NATO. Those two jobs are important, but they probably should not be performed by the same person. Instead, Levinson said the positions should be thought of like real estate agents in a business negotiation: The "inside" broker should represent the agency, while the "outside" broker represents the provider.

Another issue being addressed is standardized language for service-level agreements to ensure optimum cloud performance. The loose terms used in cloud implementation can confound contracting officers. Defining "flexibility" and "elasticity" in a contract is no easy feat, Levinson said.

King, Levinson and Simmon said cloud technology can offer agencies significant savings and expand their capabilities, but understanding the multiple crosscurrents in implementing and using the technology is essential. Not doing so tends to cancel out cloud's cost savings and efficiencies.

"If you don't get cloud right, it could make you broker," Levinson quipped.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

  • Comment
    Pilot Class. The author and Barbie Flowers are first row third and second from right, respectively.

    How VA is disrupting tech delivery

    A former Digital Service specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs explains efforts to transition government from a legacy "project" approach to a more user-centered "product" method.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.