In the near future, 'cloud computing' will just be 'computing'

Agency managers will assume that services are deployed in some type of cloud; the emphasis will be on extracting value from data, CIOs say.

Three years from now federal managers won’t have debates about the benefits of cloud computing because most will assume that services are being delivered via some type of cloud infrastructure.  Instead, they will be talking about big data; how they can get better access to data and ask more intelligent questions of the data, says Shawn Kingsberry, CIO of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

Currently, the on-demand computing model is considered a new way of providing the services IT departments have been delivering over the past 30 years. However, “when you start to look three years forward, I don’t think we are going to be talking about it because there is going to be an expectation that we are already leveraging it,” Kingsberry said. RATB uses a cloud hub to manage multiple services.

“The real focus will be on how to connect disperse data sets to turn it into more intelligent information to better serve customers in more innovative ways,” he said.

Kingsberry expressed his views on the future of the cloud during a panel discussion April 18 at the Microsoft U.S. Public Sector Federal Executive Forum held at the Washington National Harbor.  Kingsberry joined other federal CIOs to discuss the state of cloud computing.

Acceptance of cloud computing among federal agencies will continue to broaden, and adoption will increase, panel members said.

“Trust on the government side is increasing as we see it work,” said Chuck Riddle, CIO of the Government Printing Office.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the workforce is seeing the benefits of moving commodity applications such as e-mail to the cloud.  Managers are beginning to think of other ways they might leverage the cloud, said Malcolm Jackson, EPA’s assistant administrator and CIO. EPA recently moved 25,000 employee mailboxes to Microsoft Office 365 for Government, a multitenant service that stores U.S. government data in a segregated community cloud and includes e-mail, calendars, scheduling and collaboration tools for internal and external use.

Jackson compared the concept of cloud computing to cellular telephone service, which is cloud-based. Cell phone users don’t care what hardware or software their phone service uses; they just want the service. “That is the mindset I am driving in the agency,” he said.

It is difficult to project how the cloud will evolve, Jackson said, but “I think the acceptance level will increase and utilization will increase over time.”

There will be a broader adoption of hybrid clouds, said Rick Holgate, assistant director for science and technology and CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Agency managers will have a portfolio of cloud service providers, and it is incumbent on managers to learn how to manage and plan for this environment, he said.

Security will continue to evolve along with agency managers’ comfort level with security, Holgate noted. Better offerings will come from industry, and all of these factors will help the government “shift away from something that we call cloud that is really [just] offsite hosting.”

Cathy Ricketts, CIO of the Naval Sea Systems Command, said there will be stronger partnerships between government agencies and cloud hosting providers. The entities will work together to figure out the most efficient way for agencies to use services and providers to offer those services.

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