Agencies grapple with real-world cloud challenges

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Hurdles range from security to workforce issues, top federal IT officials say.

As federal agencies move past the initial rush to take applications and operations into the cloud, they're facing a new set of challenges, top federal information technology officials said Monday at the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Md.

Security is one key issue. In the post-WikiLeaks era, the State Department is leery of taking any of its operations to public cloud environments. "Right now, we're taking a very wait-and-see attitude toward the public cloud," said Cindy Cassil, director of State's Office of Systems and Integration. The department is moving to develop a private cloud for its internal customers both in the United States and at embassies abroad, however.

Such efforts raise budget concerns. Initially, Casil said, State received central funding for cloud and data center consolidation efforts. "Now we're looking at how we're going to start charging back to the [internal] customer," she said. "That's probably not going to be popular."

Managing sensitive information is a key issue at the Energy Department's national laboratories, said Energy Chief Technology Officer Pete Tseronis. And arranging for continuous monitoring of systems for potential security breaches is a complex issue. "People are saying, 'I'll just go to the cloud and do continuous monitoring there,' " he said. "Well, it's just not that simple."

Tseronis also noted that acquisition issues related to moving operations to the cloud on a large scale remain to be worked out. If agencies end up dealing with vendors individually, they will create a "massive cloud sprawl across government," he said.

The shift to the cloud has major implications for the federal IT workforce, according to Joe Klimavicz, chief information officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We need to be using services and not building systems," he said. That, in turn, means, "we're looking at some very different skill sets coming into government. We're getting away from hands on the hardware."

As data centers close and operations move to the cloud, Casill said, "we do have employees who are concerned about losing their jobs." The State Department now is looking at ways to retrain them to work in the new environment, she said.