For Feds, Choosing Cloud Services is a Lot Like Dating

Oleg Grafkoff/

Know what you want and be serious about committing are sage pieces of advice that also apply to procuring cloud computing services in the federal government.

She’s the cloud, and she’s the cool, new thing in town. You’re a fed in a dead-end relationship with your drab legacy hardware.

And because you’re breaking up with your legacy hardware soon anyway, you’re thinking it won’t hurt to test the waters with the cloud and see how things go. After all, you think she’s maybe cheaper than your last squeeze, and you’re hoping she’ll help you be more efficient and prepared for the future.

But slow down, Casanova.

Before you lock down the cloud, there are some things you ought to know about her -- and listening to friends and colleagues who’ve had flings with her in the past is a wise move.

This Meritalk report published Jan. 20, featuring cloud opinions of 150 federal IT leaders, is a great place to start.

Know What You Want

There is not a one-size fits all approach to cloud computing for any federal agency.

According to the report, IT experts want security, implementation support, reliability, ease of integration and FedRAMP certification from their cloud solutions – in that order.

Security is the most sought-after trait for federal IT experts, but only by a single percentage point (69 percent to 68 percent) over implementation support. That means feds want a cloud easy to deal with.

Most feds want reliability (67 percent), but they also want a cloud that integrates easily (63 percent). In other words, feds want a cloud that does what she says she’ll do, and they want one that meshes well with their past activities – data hosting, applications and the like.

The report suggests federal agencies are still “testing the waters, cautiously,” when it comes to the cloud. Nineteen percent of federal IT experts surveyed stated they deliver more than one-quarter of their agency’s IT services fully or partially via cloud.

The most common cloud-based services in government are email, Web hosting, servers/storage, collaboration and for providing test and development environments.

Traditional business applications, disaster recovery and middleware/development tools, however, are moved to the cloud far less often. Interestingly, those currently using or open to using open-source software reported more positive experience using the cloud than peers who didn’t.

Careful About Committing

One interesting tidbit from the report compares the 75 percent of federal IT experts who “want to migrate more services to cloud” to those 32 percent who report they can’t because of “security or data sovereignty issues” and the 23 percent who “are not comfortable passing sensitive federal data to even FedRAMP-certified cloud providers.”

This kind of reported fear makes little sense given that almost half of feds surveyed actually feel their information is safer in the cloud than in legacy systems. It’s reminiscent of the old “It’s not you, it’s me” adage popularized by Seinfeld.

The average length of a federal cloud contract reported by those surveyed clocked in at 3.6 years, and more than half – 53 percent – said their agencies are scared to get locked into long-term contracts.

Beyonce might not approve, but if feds like a cloud service, they shouldn’t have to put a ring on it. Rather, easing into cloud by migrating services with less security and privacy concerns – and ultimately less risk – seems to be a much better option that diving into a full-time relationship with a single cloud provider.

For feds, choosing cloud services is a lot like dating. Make sure you don’t commit to the wrong one. And definitely don’t commit to the one who uses Marilyn Monroe quotes in her cloud service catalog.

(Image via Oleg Grafkoff/