Does the public sector have the IT skills for cloud?

Two recent surveys tell a story of what's holding IT managers back from moving to cloud computing.

The public sector might not be adopting cloud computing as quickly as the private sector, but that doesn’t mean agencies aren't spending time evaluating the cloud's pros and cons, according to two recent surveys of IT decision-makers.

In a global survey of public-sector CIOs and IT managers commissioned by Advanced Micro Devices, 68 percent of the public-sector respondents said they view cloud solutions as a tactical move or a necessity, compared with only 52 percent in the private sector.

However, 43 percent of current cloud users and 75 percent of prospective users in the public sector don’t think they have the necessary IT skills to support a cloud environment.

“They are worried they have a knowledge gap,” wrote Nigel Dessau, AMD’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, in a recent blog post. “And they need to overcome this gap to be able to pursue a cloud strategy for their IT operations — be it a private, public or hybrid approach.”


Related coverage:

What's missing from the cloud? An exit strategy.


The findings in the AMD 2011 Global Cloud Computing Adoption, Attitudes and Approaches Study came from a survey of 1,513 IT decision-makers in Asia, Europe and the United States. About 20 percent of the respondents were from the public sector. Redshift Research conducted the survey on behalf of AMD.

Meanwhile, CDW Government released its first Cloud Computing Tracking Poll in which it surveyed 1,200 IT professionals in the United States to determine how far along their organizations are in cloud adoption, what is driving their cloud decisions and what obstacles they face. Respondents included professionals in the private and public sectors, health care, and K-12 and higher education. Marketing firm O’Keeffe and Co. conducted the survey for CDW-G.

The survey found that although many organizations are using cloud-based applications, few have a formal adoption strategy.

Eighty-four percent of IT managers said their organization uses at least one cloud application, such as Google’s Gmail, Google Docs, Microsoft Live Meeting, Dropbox or Salesforce.com.

However, when asked about the status of cloud computing within their organizations, a little more than a quarter defined themselves as cloud users and said they were implementing or maintaining the technology. Only 38 percent said their organization had a written strategic plan for cloud adoption.

Large companies and higher education are the leading cloud adopters, at 37 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Twenty-nine percent of federal respondents and 23 percent of state and local respondents said their organizations are using cloud computing.

The two studies are part of a wave of surveys exploring cloud adoption and attitudes toward cloud computing in the public and private sectors.

For instance, in a survey commissioned by Quest Software Public Sector and released May 23, 90 percent of federal IT professionals said their agencies either lack a cloud computing exit strategy or they are unaware of any strategy for handling potential dissatisfaction with a cloud vendor or a vendor that goes out of business.

Why the wave of cloud surveys?

“I think with the degree of hype that exists around cloud computing, folks are struggling to understand what it really means,” said Alan Murdoch, vice president of solutions, enterprise IT and network services at CACI International.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology provides a definition of cloud computing as an on-demand model that offers users access to shared network resources and services, but managers want to determine what it means for their enterprises, Murdoch said.

Therefore, a number of surveys are trying to bring help people better understand the cloud’s value and limitations, he added.

In some cases, the survey findings validate vendors' or IT managers’ notions about the cloud.

For example, 86 percent of public-sector cloud participants in the AMD survey said the infrastructure — the cloud provider’s servers and software — was an important part of the decision-making process as they considered a move to the cloud.

The finding indicates that “architecture matters in the cloud,” said Rick Indyke, federal business development manager at AMD, which has optimized its Opteron processors for cloud computing.

Security and data loss are top concerns in all cloud surveys, particularly among the global respondents to the AMD survey. U.S. managers, however, are more concerned than their counterparts abroad about unauthorized use, bandwidth issues and the reliability of IT.

Both cloud users and non-users say security concerns are keeping them from further adoption of cloud technology, according to the CDW-G survey. Even cloud users are missing key opportunities to secure data in the cloud, the survey states.

Fifty-four percent of the 320 respondents who use cloud technology say they encrypt transmitted data. However, only 38 percent monitor and update hardware and software patches on a daily basis, 37 percent perform 24-hour monitoring of data centers, and 31 percent certify the security measures taken by their cloud vendors, the CDW-G report states.

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