Cost savings draw governments worldwide to the cloud

Cost savings are the biggest driver to cloud computing for national, state and local governments and security concerns are the greatest barrier, a survey released Tuesday found.

About one-fourth of respondents said their government division would have to realize information technology savings of up to 10 percent to make a cloud transition worthwhile and another 20 percent said they would have to shave as much as one-fourth off their IT budgets to justify the move, according to the survey by KPMG, a global auditing firm, and Forbes Insights, a research branch of the business publishing company.

Another 10 percent of respondents said they would have to save more than 25 percent of their IT costs to make the move worthwhile.

About half of government respondents said they expected to save some money from a cloud transition, but only about one-fourth thought it would fundamentally change their operating model, according to the survey.

U.S. federal IT leaders project the government can save about 6 percent, or $5 billion, of its $80 billion annual IT budget by moving one-fourth of that enterprise to the cloud by 2015. Agencies have identified 78 computing systems they plan to transfer by May and already have transitioned numerous systems such as large calendar and email operations.

The survey included 430 government executives and managers in 10 countries, about half of whom served at the federal level. Countries in the survey were the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and five European nations.

A similar international survey by CSC, a major government IT vendor, in 2011 found most private sector companies saved little or no money from large-scale cloud transitions, but considered the moves worthwhile because of the new flexibility and mobility opportunities the cloud provided.

Cloud computing essentially allows businesses and agencies to store their data in large, off-site banks of computer servers with access through the Internet, freeing people to work more easily from home or on a smartphone or tablet.

A nimble storage structure and economies of scale allow cloud providers to charge for storage space like a utility, with agencies and businesses paying based only on use, which is where the projected savings come in.

Security concerns are the main barrier to cloud adoption, about half of the government respondents said, and that figure rose to about 56 percent with larger agencies.

About 80 percent said they'd feel more comfortable if cloud services were certified by a government agency. U.S. federal IT leaders have said they expect cloud adoption to rise significantly after the June implementation of the Federal Risk Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, a set of governmentwide security requirements for cloud vendors.

The survey lauded Australia, Italy and Denmark for leading the way on cloud adoption. Nearly one-third of survey respondents in those nations said their agencies or divisions were moving all possible programs to the cloud. The strongest security concerns came from the United States, England and Canada.

Former federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has called for a "global Cloud First policy" that will enable nations and businesses to easily share cloud-based data across national boundaries.

Regulations including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations prohibit some sensitive U.S. government data from being stored abroad or handled by non-Americans.