The cloud has transformed the private sector, allowing enterprises to significantly cut IT costs, increase agility and improve their disaster recovery strategies. As a result, enterprises have increasingly gone “all in” on the cloud. A recent survey by CITO Research and Commvaultfound that 93 percent of the survey’s CEOs, CIOs, CTOs and other business leader respondents said that their organizations are moving at least some of their processes to the cloud.
However, federal agencies have been slower to embrace the cloud, according to another recent survey by the Government Business Council and Deloitte. The survey, which covered senior employees at major federal agencies, found that 41 percent described their organizations’ efforts to migrate to the cloud as mixed, problematic or nonexistent.
There are several reasons why agencies have not moved to the cloud as fast as private companies. Agencies take their direction from the top, and while there have been some cloud directives to agencies, in many cases these directives have been unclear or changed over time. Additionally, many agencies lack clarity on how to best move to the cloud, and, given cloud security concerns, they’re hesitant to commit to the cloud without a clear roadmap.
As budgets continue to tighten and agencies need greater agility and faster, more comprehensive disaster recovery strategies, IT leaders are increasingly considering whether the cloud can address these and other IT challenges.
What they are finding is that current cloud solutions can deliver cost savings, more agility and better data protection, often while improving the security of their data.
1. Moving to the Cloud Helps Cut Costs
Perhaps the strongest reason why agencies should move to the cloud is simple: cost savings. The cloud’s pay-as-you-go model allows federal agencies to only pay for what they need, when they need it, rather than overbuy on-premises infrastructure in order to meet unlikely, but possible, application resource requirements in the future.
By reducing their need for on-premises infrastructure, agencies can also lower their IT administration costs. They essentially turn over this administration to their cloud provider, which is better able to minimize these costs thanks to its economies of scale.
Such savings can be realized from using the cloud for long-term data backup and archiving, where building and maintaining on-premises infrastructure for data storage provides few strategic or other benefits. Moreover, the pay-as-you-go model is perfectly suited for lowering the expenses of agencies’ development operations teams, tasked with developing and testing new applications, as they can now spin up and spin down cloud resources as needed.
2. Cloud Delivers Agility to Agencies
As the DevOps example indicates, the cloud also provides federal agencies with more agility, helping them accelerate application development.
The cloud’s self-service model empowers DevOps and other users, allowing them to turn on IT resources as needed, rather than waiting weeks, months or longer for their IT department to procure and configure infrastructure for projects — infrastructure they might need for only a short period of time.
Moreover, the cloud allows users to access their data from anywhere, at any time, providing these users with greater flexibility as they work on various projects.
3. Agencies Can Enhance Data Protection via Cloud
The cloud can also help agencies better protect their data. It makes it easy for agencies to affordably move backup data offsite, and then access and recover this data if there is a disaster.
In fact, new technologies enable the cloud to deliver recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives that are every bit as good as on-premises disaster recovery solutions.
With the cloud, developing and implementing a strategy for offsite data storage for disaster recovery is no longer a difficult and time-consuming process, but a project that can be completed in a few weeks or less
4. Federal Cybersecurity Gets a Boost in the Cloud
Of course, while acknowledging these benefits, many federal agencies are still concerned about the cloud’s security. Yet, in many ways the cloud is more secure than on-premises alternatives.
Because cloud providers continuously update their software with the latest patches, there is less chance that a hacker will be able to exploit a known vulnerability. Moreover, even if there is a breach, users can easily access their data in the cloud, learn what data (if any) might have been compromised, and quickly stop the intruder from accessing any other data.
Finally, in the case of a distributed denial-of-service or similar attack, shifting data to other servers to thwart these threats is much simpler than with on-premises infrastructure.
Yes, there are some unique issues related to securing data in the cloud, and agencies should have in place plans that prevent and mitigate any cyberattacks on their cloud-based data. However, the idea that using the cloud will make an agency’s data insecure is unwarranted, and federal agencies should not let this idea prevent them from developing plans to move to the cloud.
Building a Roadmap to the Cloud
So, how should an agency develop a roadmap to move some — if not all — of its data to the cloud and reap these benefits?
First, agency IT leaders should read up on how the private sector and other agencies have moved to the cloud, attend conferences and events where government and other leaders explain their cloud migrations, and consult with leading cloud and data management solution providers.
Second, they should make sure the technologies they plan to use to store and manage data in the cloud are powerful, dependable and do not lock them into a particular vendor. These technologies should not only meet the government’s requirements for cloud vendors, but should be built with data security in mind, and provide agencies with a comprehensive platform for seamlessly integrating the cloud into their holistic data management and protection strategy.
Finally, as they budget the move to the cloud, they should make sure that they account for savings over time. While the initial move to the cloud might come with a significant upfront investment, savings over time are likely to show that the total cost of the project is less than a business-as-usual approach.
Adopting the cloud will also allow agencies to turn many capital expenses into operating expenses, which will make it easier for them to make long-term plans and adjust those plans when circumstances change.
Agencies have been slow to move to the cloud. By following these recommendations and developing an educated and robust migration plan, they can benefit from the cloud’s cost, agility, disaster recovery and security and other advantages.
This content is made possible by FedTech. The editorial staff of Nextgov was not involved in its preparation.