Starting in 2009, the federal government began transitioning from local servers in agency-owned data centers to cloud infrastructures. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently provided a 23-page overview of the migration. It looks at the positive outcomes provided by cloud systems and challenges that commonly arise during implementation – one of which is the stodgy, immovable attitude of some employees.
Just a few days ago, Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell M. West provided summary and analysis of the report for the Brookings Institution’s TechTank, as described below.
Distributing resources across a sizable network of servers is preferable to the traditional datacenter model in numerous ways. The CRS whitepaper lists half a dozen advantages of cloud-hosted environments:
- Economical – Cloud systems are less resource-intensive than locally run datacenters are. When an agency sets up a local information technology (IT) system, it has to spend enough cash to allow it to operate effectively whenever traffic spikes. Although agencies must be prepared for peak situations, they typically need far fewer resources. A distributed virtual model has the real-time agility to respond to fluctuations in demand, Bleiberg and West explain: “Cloud computing allows organizations to pay for all of the resources they need and avoid costly investments in rarely used local IT systems.”
- Sustainability & TCO – Cloud is an example of economies of scale, which are financial savings gained by organizations as systems grow larger. Essentially, the cost of the same degree of productivity goes down as the business expands — Arthur Sullivan and Steven M. Sheffrin explain in Economics: Principles in Action (2003) — since any fixed expenses are divided among a larger number of tasks and systems. The sheer scale of cloud allows many companies to save thousands of dollars every year on electricity; in this way, firms avoid high datacenter total cost of ownership (TCO). Furthermore, report Bleiberg and West, “For a large cloud computing center it also makes economic sense to invest in green energy sources like wind or solar for power.”
- Access – Cloud virtual machines allow simple, seamless accessibility with whatever computer or mobile device you choose, wherever it is located.
- Flexibility – With broad management through one integrated cloud control panel, you can make sure that your software is always up-to-date. Meanwhile, operating systems are updated automatically by the cloud service provider (CSP). You can also reduce the expense of software that draws on significant resources.
- Security – Legitimate cloud networks, such as those housed in SSAE-16 audited datacenters, offer sophisticated protections against cybercrime. They also offer hybrid and private solutions for particularly sensitive applications, to maintain compliance with sector-specific regulations.
- Redundancy – The cloud model stores information on more than one machine. That way if one server experiences a problem, your information remain safe and uncorrupted in another location.
How Heavily is the Government Invested in Cloud?
Since the federal turn toward the cloud, the total cost of IT has dropped. After rising approximately 6% each year between 2001 and 2010 (from $46 billion to $81 billion), expenditures fell about 7% ($5.7 billion) between 2010 and 2013. Keep in mind that is the total cost of federal computing, since cloud has not always been listed as a separate expense. Cloud projections are broadly disparate, but they show that the government’s transition is still in its infancy, with analyst firm estimates for the 2015 federal spend ranging from $1.4 billion-$7 billion.
What Obstacles Must be Overcome?
The CRS overview highlights a number of hurdles that have been encountered as federal agencies migrate to a distributed computing model:
- Extreme Security Precautions – Because the US government is a unique and valuable target for invasion, systemic patching occurs more frequently than it does in the private sphere. CSPs can have difficulty keeping up with the government’s consistent vulnerability needs.
- Slow Bureaucratic Adaptation – Many personnel in federal offices are firmly entrenched in the current operating model.
- Proper supporting mechanisms – Federal offices aren’t always as cloud-ready and they would like to be. According to Bleiberg and West, “government agencies may lack the necessary IT infrastructure or speedy Internet connections that leverage the maximum potential of the cloud.”
- Lack of Expertise – Management within the cloud is best conducted by individuals specifically trained in that area. Many agency staffers are long-term employees with a firmer grasp of legacy systems.
- Cost of Transition – Although total financial outlay is reduced over time, due to the data precautions needed by the government, migration is often costly.
What’s Next for the Federal Cloud?
The government has studied the long-term benefits of cloud and is committed to switching over to the ultra-efficient virtual model. However, as described above, initial migration from traditional servers has been costly. Furthermore, privacy of government data is absolutely critical, so, Bleiberg and West explain, “New legislation is likely necessary to achieve the complementary goals of privacy and security.”
Is your business exploring cloud? Check out our dedicated offering within our SSAE-16 audited data center now.
By Kent Roberts
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