3 flavors of cloud computing give agencies options for getting started

Agencies can choose the best solution for their needs

With its cloud-first approach, there is no doubt that the federal government supports moving to cloud computing infrastructures. But there are different types of cloud models, each appropriate for certain scenarios and inappropriate for others:

  • Software as a service;
  • Infrastructure as a service;
  • Platform as a service.

SaaS, IaaS and PaaS are delivered in several ways:     

  • Public cloud: Where the cloud infrastructure is made available to the general public or industry as well as to your agency or department and is owned by the organization selling cloud services.
  • Private cloud: Where the cloud infrastructure is operated solely for your department or agency, and may be managed by your agency or by a third party and may exist either on-premise or off-premise.
  • Community cloud: Where the cloud infrastructure is shared by several departments or agencies that have shared concerns — such as mission, security requirements, policy or compliance considerations — but may be managed by your agency or a third party and may exist either on-premise or off-premise.
  • Hybrid cloud: Where the cloud infrastructure is a combination of two or more clouds (public, community or private) that are unique entities bound  together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability.

The most popular and most highly adopted cloud model is SaaS. This model allows organizations to rent remotely hosted software applications, paying for only the functionalities and computer cycles used. Applications are accessed through the Internet and a browser-based user interface.

Agencies do not need to buy, develop, install, configure and maintain application software and servers in this model — assuming an organization has the needed internal network bandwidth and suitable Internet access, everything else is outsourced. SaaS providers may host the software in their own data centers or with co-location providers, or they may outsource to an infrastructure provider.

According to The Download on Cloud Computing in Government, a survey conducted in December 2010 by the 1105 Government Information Group, more than half of the 460 respondents are interested in or investigating SaaS solutions. The most popular and useful SaaS-based cloud opportunities for federal agencies include collaboration, document management, content management and project management. Roughly half of the respondents work for a civilian agency, while the other half worked for military agencies. And roughly half had non-IT titles but substantial roles in technology decision making, while the other half had IT titles.

Civilian and defense implementations of SaaS abound.

  • The Army’s Experience Center moved to a cloud environment to create a flexible, extendable and customizable recruitment tracking platform to track prospective recruits. The Army projects that the  SaaS-based application will reduce costs to $8 million from $83 million and increase productivity by 33 percent.
  • The Federal Labor Relations Authority replaced its decade-old, off-the-shelf case management system with a SaaS-based solution that allows users the flexibility to monitor case activity anytime and anywhere. FLRA estimates that the move to SaaS will reduce total costs by 88 percent in five years. It also eliminated an upfront licensing cost of $273,000, reduced annual maintenance to $16,800 from $77,000 and eliminated all hardware acquisition costs.


Instead of focusing on applications, IaaS focuses on the infrastructure that supports applications. IaaS puts IT data center operations — everything from processing and storage to networks — in the hands of a third party, with options available to minimize the effect if a cloud provider has a service interruption.

IaaS offers organizations a way to avoid buying additional servers, storage and network devices and increasing their carbon footprint, but it can take advantage of any type of software required for a mission, including operating systems and applications. The integration and management of a disparate collection of point solutions is no longer the user organization's problem. Instead, the public cloud service provider contends with those problems.

Agencies Use SaaS

According to the 1105 Government Information Group survey, backup and recovery, along with storage, are the most popular uses of IaaS in government. The survey found that 15 percent of federal agencies are currently using IaaS services, and an additional 42 percent are interested or investigating it. And that number is sure to grow.

Several government missions currently rely on IaaS. In fact, in October 2010, the General Services Administration awarded contracts to 11 vendors for IaaS cloud services, accessible via Apps.gov.

The Federal Geospatial Data Clearinghouse’s GeoCloud Initiative used IaaS capabilities to deploy services and solutions, improving public access to geospatial data beyond in-house capabilities; increasing speed of response, reliability, failover and security; and providing better handling of peak load situations.


PaaS delivers an entire platform in the cloud that organizations can use to develop or test applications or application services. Like all cloud-based offerings, these are run and managed by a services vendor. PaaS eliminates high upfront costs and long development cycles while simplifying deployment.

According to the 1105 Government Information Group survey, about 12 percent of federal agencies are using some type of PaaS solution, while another 35 percent are interested or investigating it. The most popular use of PaaS environments in government is for database systems and general development, although they can also be used for business intelligence platforms, development and testing, and integrating applications.


The Treasury Department’s Office of Comptroller of the Currency moved to the cloud for its Vulnerability Assessment System, improving security, reliability and capacity, while cutting costs. Project results include a 458 percent increase in scanning, an 86 percent reduction in cost per scan, and production operation and deployment in one day.

No matter which cloud-based alternatives make sense, the benefits will quickly become clear. PaaS, IaaS and SaaS offer agencies the opportunity to build and test innovative solutions to deliver services in less time and at less cost.

“Cloud computing services help to deliver on this Administration’s commitment to provide better value for the American taxpayer by making government more efficient,” said Federal CIO Vivek Kundra in October 2010. “Cloud solutions not only help to lower the cost of government operations they also drive innovation across government.”

About the Author

Karen D. Schwartz is a freelance writer for 1105 Government Information Group’s Content Solutions unit. This research report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please e-mail us at [email protected]