The first four years of the administration's policy have been hampered by budget pressures, but the cost economies of cloud technology will drive faster adoption.
It's been a little over four years since then-federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced a cloud-first policy as part of the Office of Management and Budget's 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management. It's worth looking back at what has become of that policy and where federal IT is going with cloud technology.
The reality is that in the past four years, the cloud-first policy has experienced slow traction due to a variety of economic, cultural and technical issues. But 2015 could be an inflection point to greater momentum for cloud deployments.
According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, agency cloud investments have been constrained by the impact of sequestration on IT funding, particularly on the type of capital investments that are typically needed to upgrade from older infrastructure. Another factor that has slowed cloud initiatives is uncertainty about how to meet cybersecurity and regulatory requirements.
Now, though, there should be greater momentum for federal cloud initiatives. In the next three to five years, agencies will start aggressively moving data and applications with low to moderate security needs to the cloud. Two major factors are the ongoing budget pressures, which are motivating agencies to take advantage of the cloud's cost economies, and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.
The move to the cloud will also be helped by the progressive addition of increasing numbers of cloud providers to the General Services Administration's Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which ensures that cloud services comply with a defined set of baseline security controls and processes agreed upon by a variety of federal agencies.
Like any IT project or process, cloud adoption must have clear requirements, goals and business guidelines so that the focus isn't on technology change for its own sake. Furthermore, it's important to recognize that the move to the cloud is part of a more fundamental shift in IT toward more resource sharing, collaboration, open standards, consumerized technology expectations and automation of IT processes.
It is essential to educate IT professionals and the end-user community about what that transformation means and help everyone make a clear but measured transition. This will require changes in habits, skills and communication methods so that IT teams can retain sufficient policy controls and ensure security, cost savings and satisfied end-users.
Here are some other measures that can help federal agencies improve their rate of success in implementing cloud initiatives:
- Plan for network upgrades. One practical consideration is whether there are sufficient connectivity, bandwidth and redundancy to support cloud services.
- Create a data governance plan. A sound plan includes assessing which data is fit for the cloud and managing compliance with FedRAMP requirements.
- Have an acquisition process in place. Agencies must make sure their acquisition teams know how to manage cloud vendors and contracts.
Of course, not all government applications can migrate to public clouds due to security issues. But those that can will pick up momentum in the short run, and those efforts will eventually help agencies achieve a longer-term hybrid cloud environment.