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The future of FedRAMP

Shutterstock image: the data cloud connecting a number of global services.

The global cloud computing market is experiencing tremendous growth and is expected to reach $121 billion by 2015. However, cloud adoption in government remains sluggish, despite the Office of Management and Budget's guidance to consider cloud as the first choice whenever there is a secure, reliable and cost-effective option.

According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the average amount of IT budgets dedicated to cloud has increased from 1 percent in 2012 to 2 percent in 2014, representing approximately $529 million in IT spending. It is generally accepted that transitioning to the cloud is a critical step toward enabling innovation and effectively using limited IT funding. So what is keeping the government from making the leap to more cloud-based infrastructures?

Security stands out as one of the most significant barriers to cloud adoption, although funding issues, acquisition processes and infrastructure requirements also serve as top challenges, according to the GAO report. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), launched two years ago, was designed to address security and acquisition challenges, but the program has faced a series of challenges and delays.

Despite agencies' official deadline of June 5 to exclusively use FedRAMP-approved cloud vendors, to date only 12 cloud service providers have received provisional authority to operate from the Joint Authorization Board. Coupled with uneven agency authorization efforts and a limited number of third-party assessment organizations, many potential CSPs are stuck in an approval backlog.

At the same time, the FedRAMP Program Management Office has issued updates that require new vendors to offer continuous monitoring and give existing vendors one year to implement new baselines that mirror those in the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Special Publication 800-53 Revision 4, "Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations." Although continuous monitoring is an important consideration for cloud security, such ongoing changes further complicate the approval process.

In any IT environment, there are ample risks for data loss. In the cloud, physical barriers are blurred, amplifying potential vulnerabilities and making security standardization critical. Therefore, FedRAMP plays a crucial role in establishing a common set of security baselines and standards, which will position agencies and contractors to operate in a more cohesive manner and respond quickly in the event of a security incident.

As continuous monitoring capabilities are woven into FedRAMP, compliant CSPs will be better able to take advantage of the innovation opportunities offered by the cloud without jeopardizing the security of agencies' sensitive assets.

There is much to be gained through strategic migration of federal IT investments to the cloud. Basic projects, such as email migration, have already proven they can provide cost savings. Forward-thinking agencies, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have also migrated other services, such as unified messaging.

As those in the government space find their groove in using the cloud and as the pool of FedRAMP-approved CSPs grows, agencies will realize an expanding opportunity to take advantage of emerging technology drivers such as mobility and big data.

Despite the challenges the program has faced, FedRAMP has made a real impact on government and has helped agencies go beyond the original opportunities for cloud adoption. For instance, NASA and the Army are considering FedRAMP-approved cloud-based infrastructures, and the government is exploring the use of a similar approval model for other aspects of federal IT, such as apps.

FedRAMP and other security standards will continue to enable the government to move toward a future in which benefits are defined by a virtualized, cloud-based IT environment.

About the Authors

Sue Palermo is senior vice president of emerging programs and services at Creative Computing Solutions Inc.

Michael Smith is deputy chief security officer at Creative Computing Solutions Inc.

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