Agencies find a cloud commitment easy to make, hard to implement
Easy to do is easy to say
The good news is that the conversation over cloud computing in government has gone beyond basic questions about what the cloud is and on to a more specific examination of how government can take advantage of it. The not-so-good news is that most agencies are still hesitating to commit fully to the cloud.
And that means that government is not wringing the kinds of efficiencies and cost savings it could from the cloud. A study published in April by market researcher MeriTalk, the result of a survey of 108 federal CIOs and IT managers, found that agencies were saving less than half the costs they could have.
The reasons for agencies holding back are a familiar litany of complaints: Some 85 percent of the study respondents think security is a major concern, agency culture bothers more than a third of them, and worries over service levels and performance of the cloud account for another 32 percent.
Still, said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, despite the hesitancy, it’s clear that cloud is going to happen in government and probably in a big way.
“I think people now are narrowing in on how much there really is to save by going to the cloud, rather than just saying they will take a certain number of applications to the cloud,” he said.
There’s a natural progression where people see an emerging technology and initially enthuse about it, said Deniece Peterson, senior manager of federal industry analysis at Deltek. Then the reality of implementing that technology in the government environment, which has unique challenges, comes to the fore.
“The biggest consideration for agencies now is the budget constraints they face,” she said. “In the past, if they wanted to implement new technology, they would ask for the money and it generally flowed, but now priorities have to be set.”
When it comes to the cloud, agencies have to make hard decisions about where it makes sense for the cloud to be used, what kind of cloud is most appropriate for that, and how far you can take it keeping in mind the budget you have to work with.
“We also now have examples of cloud implementation in government,” Peterson said, “and people are seeing that you don’t always get the savings that are projected in the initial argument for deploying cloud.”
That much was confirmed by a survey on cloud computing published by Federal Computer Week early in 2012. It found that, although agencies had posted significant cost savings, most reported the savings had been less than expected. The biggest surprise was the range of other, unanticipated investments in hardware and software, along with higher data bills, that moving to the cloud required.
Cloud is indeed proving not to be as easy as simply choosing which platform to move to, such as public or private, but rather it’s now about what else is needed to meet agency goals of higher efficiencies by using the cloud, said Jo Ramachandran, senior segment manager at Level 3 Communications.
“There are concerns about such things as security, ownership of data, network performance and others that mean that the [cloud] architecture that suits one agency for a particular application may be quite different from that needed by another agency and application,” she said. “Given all of the variables, it’s not an easy calculation to make and requires thoughtful planning to ensure increased efficiencies.”
However, cloud is clearly now one of the major resources agencies will look to for driving savings and efficiencies. Some 70 percent of respondents to the MeriTalk survey expect an increase of cloud-based applications in the next two years, and they rank it second in the preferred solutions list behind data center consolidation.