Are federal agencies ready to bail on data centers?

High-level IT officials across several agencies are ready to say goodbye to on-premise infrastructure.

Shutterstock image (by ra2studio): young businessman looking at a cloud concept wall.
 

Government IT leaders are becoming increasingly vocal about leveraging the cloud to get out of the data center business for good.

Data center consolidation and enterprise cloud strategies are not new. However, comments by top government IT officials at the Aug. 23 FCW Cloud Summit in Washington, D.C., signal just how much the ground has shifted since "cloud-first" became the official policy of the federal government in 2010. Multiple high-level IT officials across different agencies expressed more than just a willingness to go to the cloud. Their comments indicated an increasing desire to move past the on-premise era, or at least scale back as much as practically possible.

Dan DelGrosso, technical director for the Navy's Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, said that last month branch leadership was presented with a five-year plan that included migration of all Navy data to a commercial cloud and an end to legacy IT systems that aren't compatible.

"[The] Navy is all in, we have a cloud-first policy," said DelGrosso, later adding: "We're trying to get out of the business of owning our own infrastructure."

Maria Roat, CIO for the Small Business Administration, said that while performing a walkthrough of her organization's water-damaged data center facilities last year, she had an epiphany. By January, every server was tagged with a colored sticker: red meant it had to go, green meant it couldn't be migrated and had to stay. Systems and data where there were questions around compatibility were tagged yellow, but the goal was to figure out a way to push them to the cloud as well.

"I said no new hardware, period. I drew a line in the sand," Roat said. "The big driver for me was getting out of that data center."

Tony Cossa, acting CTO for the Department of Agriculture, advised federal agencies and departments to start thinking hard about how much longer they want to be in the business of owning their own IT infrastructure.

"I share the thoughts that hosting is not the future," Cossa said.

When cloud computing first began to penetrate the government market, CIOs had to balance potential savings and scalability benefits with angst about security issues and liability in the event of a data breach. Now, security is seen as a feature rather than a bug of commercial cloud.

"We need to get out of the assumption that our data is too sensitive for the commercial cloud. Sorry, I'm not accepting that as an argument," said DelGrosso. "In fact, we're making an assumption in the Navy that we're moving 100 percent to the cloud."

Some are more skeptical about savings. DelGrosso didn't dismiss the idea that widespread cloud adoption could save money, but he said that any department or agency using cost savings as their primary rationale would be "setting themselves up for failure." Cloud strategies should focus on serving the agency's mission first and foremost. 

"Going to the cloud is not a money-saving strategy," he said.

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