How Close is the Government Really to Broad Cloud Adoption?


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Federal cloud use is beginning to show signs of wider implementation.

The advent of utility-based computing has changed the information technology game in the federal market, but the government still has ways to go before cloud services are broadly adopted and incorporated across its many agencies.

To put it another way: Federal agencies’ first forays into cloud computing were baby steps in the late 2000s, and the past two years -- with the development of government security standards -- have been slightly longer strides. Yet, the pieces are now beginning to fall into place, according to Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services’ global public sector, for the broad adoption of cloud computing governmentwide.

“The president’s FY 2015 budget request placed a greater emphasis on the utility-based model of cloud computing, and [the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program] was highlighted as the administration pushes for further adoption of cloud,” said Carlson, speaking this week at the AWS government symposium in Washington, D.C.

Carlson described the evolution of federal cloud computing in six stages. The first, she said, was “a stated policy,” referencing former U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra’s “cloud-first policy.” When released, that framework had a ripple effect across the Atlantic; the United Kingdom soon followed suit, issuing even more progressive policies.

The second phase was the government formulating an actual definition of cloud. The National Institute of Standards and Technology accepted the mission to define “cloud,” and did so after meticulous research that included significant industry weigh in. Phase three -- security and compliance -- has been addressed through FedRAMP, the government’s standardized approach to cloud security. More than a dozen cloud service providers have introduced to government cloud solutions that meet FedRAMP’s robust risk-based requirements. Dozens more are in the pipeline awaiting accreditation, which signals a competitive federal cloud market ahead.

Cloud’s continued evolution is beginning to alter how the government makes certain kinds of acquisitions, Carlson said, addressing the fourth phase. AWS, she said, just responded to a request for proposal in Queensland, Australia, that spelled out NIST’s definition of cloud computing at the top of the document -- a sign that governments globally have a more detailed perspective of what they want when purchasing technology.

The last two phases, culture and broad adoption, may be the two toughest to scale. Yet, two factors are forcing change, according to Carlson: tighter budgets and the desire for more agility. Just a few years ago, it may have been difficult to imagine the government -- with its thousands of disparate data centers -- becoming cloud centric. But today, that could well be the case. Carlson said, surprisingly, cost isn’t even the biggest driver to cloud these days -- at least not for AWS customers.

“Increased agility has become the No. 1 reason organizations use the AWS cloud now; it’s not just price anymore,” Carlson said.

(Image via wavebreakmedia/