It's no secret that the use of cloud systems is a nearly-common practice within the enterprise sector. Whereas in the past, many company administrators worried about the safety of the sensitive data they placed within Web-based arrangements, many of these concerns have disappeared as more users begin to understand the technology and how they can leverage it safely.
As the cloud continues to be seen within several different industries, many groups are making the switch to technologies housed and accessed over the Internet, including organizations in the government.
Cloud use in federal agencies has been on the rise recently. However, there are still those that hesitate to put information connected with matters of national security in an online system. While the cloud can offer a range of benefits to government groups, vendors must take extra steps to encourage the migration.
Government cloud use takes off
When the cloud first emerged, the government was more in the business of regulating the technology and helping to create industry standards than actually using such systems. Now, however, Wired contributor Sujatha Perepa noted that several federal organizations have implemented the cloud, and are setting the tone for others to do the same.
Several branches of the armed services, as well as the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education were among the first groups to leverage Web-based technologies. This trend is poised to continue, Perepa stated, as the IDC predicted that by the end of this year, federal agencies will have spent a total of $1.7 billion on private cloud systems, and $118.3 million on public clouds.
Perepa pointed out that the cloud is now utilized in a variety of ways within the government including for IT consolidation strategies, to make shared technological systems available and for citizen services. In fact, officials are even taking steps to foster cloud adoption.
"According to the U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, the U.S. government instituted the CloudFirst policy to accelerate the pace of cloud adoption," Perepa wrote. "This document promotes the service management, innovation and adoption of emerging technologies. According to this document, 'focus will shift from the technology itself to the core competencies and mission of the agency.'"
The Army's cloud email, enterprise applications
One organization that has been a particularly strong supporter of the cloud is the U.S. Army, which is nearly done switching to cloud email, and recently gave the order to migrate its enterprise apps.
InformationWeek contributor Richard Walker reported late last year that the Army utilizes both a classified cloud email system, SIPRNet, as well as an unclassified one, NIPRNet. Overall, 1.4 million users leverage the unclassified email and 115,000 individuals use the classified system as part of the Army's DOD Enterprise Email, DEE. The initial migration to cloud email is the first step in an overarching department plan to move to private cloud hosting in the Defense Information Systems Agency's Defense Enterprise Computing Centers. Once the migration is completed, approximately 4.5 million Army members will utilize the cloud.
The move to cloud email is a cost-saving move for the Army, as they need not spend resources on maintaining and protecting legacy email systems, Walker noted.
"Officials expect DEE to improve operational effectiveness, security and efficiency, saving the Army $76 million in fiscal year 2013 and $380 million through 2017," Walker wrote.
In addition to its email system, the Army also announced that it has begun migrating its enterprise applications as well. On its official website, the group stated that a June memo from Under Secretary Brad Carson orders that this move be completed by the end of fiscal year 2018.
In addition to cost savings, moving the enterprise applications to cloud data centers will also boost efficiency and improve overall standards.
On the right track
Currently, the government is working toward becoming a more agile, technologically advanced organization where the majority of data and resources are housed and access in the cloud, Network World contributor Kenneth Corbin noted. And although some say federal agencies are still behind when it comes to cloud adoption, it looks as if they are on the right track to achieve this goal.
Barry West, Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation CIO, told Corbin that if the government plans to become more cloud-centralized, it will need support from all sides. West refers to this as "socializing cloud on the business side."
"You have to really have a sponsor in your organization that believes in the cloud and is willing to take some risk into new areas that they may not have been in before," West said. "You have to have somebody that's … going to take some of the risk and challenges and be willing to work with some of the other folks in the organization that may not be so comfortable with cloud or not being able to see their data in their own data center."
As Perepa pointed out, there are already a number of federal agencies that have adopted the cloud, effectively putting the government on the right track to continue this migration.
Encouragement from cloud vendors
However, the government will also need help from outside organizations as well to encourage the move to the cloud. Corbin noted that there are several steps cloud providers can take to help foster cloud adoption in the government, including being more transparent about data portability. Many groups fear that once information is in the cloud, it is stuck there forever. However, vendors can ease these worries by offering a "transition-out plan" within their contracts that allows government groups the flexibility to move their data where they want.
Security has long since been a challenge to cloud adoption, and is an especially critical aspect for federal agencies. These organizations deal with some of the most sensitive information, and therefore understandably concerned with turning this data over to a cloud provider. If vendors are also transparent about the protection measures, and provide a detailed, in-depth look into their security systems, many of the worries connected with information security can be alleviated.
The bottom line in each case is clarity: If service providers are clear about their processes and safeguards, government agencies will have less qualms about leveraging the cloud.