Like it or not, cloud computing is here to stay
Cloud computing is not going anywhere
Like most new technologies, cloud computing hit the IT world hard, a bright new star in the technology galaxy. And like most new and dynamic technologies, there are inevitable trade-offs.
Unlike many hot technologies that rapidly cool off and disappear almost as fast as they burst on the scene, cloud computing will become the dominant platform for new applications, as well as the most popular solution for existing applications as they age and need to be replaced, according to a new survey of 460 government officials by the 1105 Government Information Group.
For nearly 60 years, government computing was based on developing and managing applications and data centers internally. But based on the benefits of cloud computing, a majority of federal IT managers indicated that it will become a core component of government IT in five years, according to the December 2010 survey. The survey also found that only 10 percent of respondents say cloud computing is a temporary fad and won’t last.
Still, there are many barriers to full cloud adoption by government. Many agencies are still worried about security, while others are hesitant to change the way they do business. Other concerns include compliance, how to integrate cloud computing with in-house systems, IT, and worries about giving up control.
But all of that is changing. Input, a marketing intelligence company that focuses on government, predicts that government spending on cloud computing will exceed $1.4 billion by 2015, with a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent — roughly five times the overall federal IT spending growth rate.
Cloud adoption is basically in the investigation stage, according to the survey respondents. While roughly 12 percent of the respondents have already adopted cloud computing for at least one application, 20 percent are in development, and 55 percent are investigating the technology. Hardly anyone responding to the survey indicated no interest in the technology.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to greater adoption of cloud computing in federal government has been privacy and security concerns. The government’s big push to deal with those security situations — programs such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program — will go a long way toward fixing them, as will industry consortia such as the Cloud Security Alliance. Cloud vendors, including IBM, Rackspace, Trend Micro, Lockheed Martin and Google. These companies are actively involved in the alliance, which seeks to provide solutions to security problems in advance of standards.
In addition, vendors have worked hard to shore up their identity management and access control methods, encryption methods, and auditing and monitoring methods, making significant progress in explaining how the clouds that they offer map to the requirements of government missions. Leading cloud vendors are in the process of getting their clouds certified as safe and secure by the federal government during the next several years.
“There is a lot of progress being made on the security front,” said Melvin Greer, senior fellow and chief strategist of cloud computing at Lockheed Martin. “Within 18 to 24 months, cloud security will be no more of an issue for federal government than any other IT security issue.”
Another area of concern is compliance. As cloud technologies improve and as compliance requirements adapt to accommodate cloud architecture, the situation will become less of a concern.
In a November, 2010 white paper on cloud computing in the public sector, Microsoft made the analogy to e-signatures. Although they were not accepted for many documents in the early days of the Internet, acceptance became commonplace as authentication and encryption technology improved and as compliance requirements changed. Microsoft notes that the same will happen with compliance in the cloud.
The perception that agencies are giving up control over their applications, data and infrastructure has been another barrier, but that evidence is anecdotal. Indeed, the 1105 Government Information Group survey didn’t find concerns about control to be a dominant concern. 1105 Government Information Group survey respondents listed factors such as security, comfort level and perceived lack of standards as their concerns, and a perceived lack of control didn’t seem to be an issue.
Input found that the growth and strength of software as a service adoption in large organizations are proof that perceptions are changing as the trade-offs tilt in favor of an on-demand approach. And as more success stories emerge, the perception of giving up control will be much less of an issue, said Deniece Peterson, manager of industry analysis at Input.
Another issue is concern over how to integrate a cloud computing environment with in-house IT. That will slowly dissipate, as success stories emerge and as government further embraces SaaS and service-oriented architecture. Cloud computing is a natural extension of these solutions, Peterson said, and aligns well with an incremental approach to cloud computing.
As these are being dealt with in government, industry also is doing its part, with cloud vendors becoming more aggressive in developing and improving public sector-specific cloud solutions. Many large vendors are working hard in this arena, including IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Cisco Systems, Oracle, VMware, Citrix and Symantec.
All of these facts point to one truth: the cloud is fast becoming a permanent part of the federal government's IT infrastructure. The concerns of federal government are real but are being dealt with quickly and likely will fade over time as the comfort factor increases, successes are celebrated, and security and other issues are put to rest.
“Within a decade, [government] will have a nearly complete cloud infrastructure,” Peterson said.