Agencies identify 78 services for cloud transition

Federal agencies have identified 78 computer systems they plan to migrate to the cloud within a year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The listing follows a directive in OMB's 25-point plan to reform federal IT, published in December 2010, that ordered federal agencies to identify three services they could move to the cloud by May 2012.

The transition to cloud computing should save the federal government at least $5 billion annually, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told members of a Senate panel Wednesday. A firmer estimate of those savings will have to wait on individual contracts for the moves to be negotiated and other factors, Kundra said.

Computer clouds essentially are large banks of computer servers that can operate much closer to full capacity than standard servers by rapidly repacking data as one customer surges in usage and another one dips. Data storage in the cloud is operated like electricity grids or other utilities, with customers paying only for what they use.

A handful of low-risk government services, such as websites that don't take in sensitive public information, are already in privately owned cloud space. But some government officials have expressed skepticism about moving some very sensitive or complex operations to either private clouds or to government-only clouds, worrying that the move could jeopardize security.

The majority of projects slated for transition seem to be low-hanging fruit, securitywise. Out of the 78 cloud-bound items, for instance, 14 are email systems, which are easy to standardize in the manner required for inclusion in the cloud.

The General Services Administration announced on May 9 it would include bids from vendors offering to transfer agency email systems to the cloud on its GSA schedule, a list of approved contractors and prices that allows individual agencies to drive down service costs by leveraging the buying power of the entire federal government.

Other common items slated for cloud transition include websites and document storage, among other services.