Opinion

The future of cloud: Moving up the value chain

Shutterstock image (by Sentavio): Collaboration facilitated by cloud technology.

Cloud technology is becoming ubiquitous in the federal government. For agencies that have already unplugged their traditional data centers and shifted their computing models, that move has brought dramatic value — in well-documented savings of money, time and resources.

But what about the future? As cloud technology advances, will the value of being in a cloud environment continue to increase? More important, as budgets shrink and security risks grow, will the cloud provide a way to enhance innovation and tackle increasingly complex technology challenges?

The answer to all those questions is yes. In fact, as cloud technology advances, agencies will realize a different kind of value — the value of automation, the value of efficiency and the value of being able to shift focus from how to store and manage data to how to use that information to provide better service to citizens.

Much of the initial value from cloud technology has come from the ability to eliminate hardware. In a cloud environment, if an agency needs new servers, instead of buying and hooking up more hardware, that agency can simply press a button to add new servers. Those servers are online immediately, often in a matter of minutes.

That initial value is highly tangible: Agencies save money and time. The cloud eliminates the burden of buying expensive hardware and storage that might not be used and takes a long time to procure. Furthermore, federal IT teams no longer have to spend hours dealing with the physical aspects of data centers, and agencies can downscale or eliminate large, costly data centers while also meeting federal directives.

Additional value comes from the opportunity to implement virtual desktop environments, thereby allowing federal employees to work on any compatible device and maintain a consistent level of security no matter what the connection. That approach enhances worker productivity and, once again, saves agencies money on hardware and maintenance.

The value chain of cloud computing continues to move up the stack into automation and efficiency. We are already starting to see value in managed services, labor and DevOps.

In the past, agencies paid for teams of people to monitor systems, ensure that service-level agreements were met and perform a slew of systems administration tasks. Today, agencies that have moved to a cloud environment pay only for the service level they want and scale that cost up and down based on the real-time size of their cloud environment.

For example, federal IT managers can differentiate between less critical systems that have a narrower uptime need, such as development environments, and critical systems that have a 24/7 need, such as production environments, and they can pay different rates for those requirements.

On the DevOps side, many agencies have followed a traditional software development model and separated the development, testing and operations teams. The cloud environment provides the foundation for making that a more continuous model. It significantly reduces time and effort for all the teams because automating administration enables faster development and more rapid release cycles, and it increases the functionality and quality of the resulting systems.

As the value chain continues to move up the stack, cloud technology will provide insight and business intelligence by showing agencies what they should be doing instead of simply showing them what they are doing.

That is where the real innovation happens.

Today, cloud technology provides a foundation to react quickly to changing needs. But it is still a reactive model. As cloud platforms mature, we will use predictive analytics to drive change before it's needed. That will create an environment in which we're meeting and adapting to the evolving needs of our users before they even realize it, and we will be feeding all that predictive information back into agency operations to help drive strategy.

Simply put, adding insight and intelligence to the cloud equation will help agencies make better business decisions. The value of that ability — to the government and the public — is nearly limitless.

About the Author

Mark Pietrasanta is chief technology officer at Aquilent.

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