The keys to maximizing cloud investments

For some people, cloud computing is still a mystery dogged by questions of security and value, but advice from successful users in federal agencies can help demystify the technology.

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For some people, cloud computing is still a mystery dogged by questions of security and value, but advice from successful users at federal agencies can help demystify the technology.

It can indeed be the cost-effective, life-altering technology it is billed as for federal agencies, said Joe Klimavicz, CIO and director of high-performance computing and communications at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But maximizing cloud benefits requires users to focus equally on governance, architecture, requirements, security, acquisition and deployment.

"It doesn't take much to move to a cloud solution anymore," Klimavicz told several hundred attendees at the 2013 Federal Cloud Innovation Forum on Oct. 22 presented by IBM, FCW and GCN. "But you want to maximize your investment through the cloud."

Klimavicz recounted lessons learned in the past several years at NOAA and described why the six factors cited above are vital to a cloud project's success.

Agencies need to discuss governance, he said, because "you have to have policies and procedures in place" for managing the cloud. Rules don't have to be set in stone, but data ownership -- who has control of what -- can be a major problem, especially in large agencies.

Klimavicz said agencies must ensure that cloud architecture "integrates and plays well" with legacy systems, and that potential problem can often be avoided by savvy requirements listed in a request for proposals (RFP). An agency's requirements are especially important because it is a lot harder to change specs after a contract is signed, he added.

Security often goes hand in hand with requirements, but he recommended that agencies take advantage of existing cloud security regulations, particularly the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.

Addressing acquisition specifically, Klimavicz said agencies are only as good as their weakest link. If a specific technology procurement doesn't fit well with others, it can be problematic and potentially not worth the risk. He also advised against excessive customization.

"It's tempting, but I want to see cloud solutions deployed within six months after I sign the contract," Klimavicz said. "If that's not done, there's something wrong there."

Once you've got the technology set, deployment is the final piece of the cloud procurement puzzle, but it requires a lot more than just the click of a button. Klimavicz recommended creating a project plan and a marketing plan to outline how you are going to market the project to corporate leadership, complete with key performance indicators that -- if done properly -- were already included in the cloud contract.

Those kinds of plans promote the executive support necessary for the "huge change management" that cloud computing provides.

"You need strong executive sponsorship and leadership because people will complain and have issues," Klimavicz said.

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