The U.S. government was given a jolt to start virtualizing IT services thanks to the implementation of the cloud-first initiative in 2011, which mandated that federal agencies take full advantage of the capabilities of the cloud. Earlier this year, the congressional cloud computing caucus reinforced the priority with its release of the "Don't Be a Box Hugger" report. Among the top arguments in favor of cloud migration was the staggering $18.9 billion that could be saved over time by further embracing the cloud.
What's the holdup?
Despite the proposed benefits of government cloud migration, CIO reported on Oct. 1 that government cloud adoption efforts are moving along at a snail's pace. The report represents the continuation of a trend that was detected in early 2015 via the findings of a survey conducted by MeriTalk, a conglomerate of U.S. government IT leaders. Respondents supplied mixed results regarding their cloud experiences, with the majority (75 percent) citing fear for a lack of control over their data as a result of migration. Concerns over long-term contracts with cloud vendors were cited by 53 percent of feds polled. Meanwhile, 32 percent claimed that they cannot move any data to the cloud for security reasons, and 23 percent expressed distrust of all cloud vendors. Only 53 percent of respondents cited general success in cloud migration.
For the time being, the majority of more sophisticated federal IT services and systems are still running on legacy infrastructure, which costs the federal government more than $80 billion annually to maintain, according to a 92-page report issued by the government accountability office.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, the issue is fairly complicated, and while cloud computing is not necessarily more or less safe than legacy IT infrastructure, it has unique security demands that need to be accommodated before government cloud services can become a de facto facet of federal operations. As clearly illustrated by the mixed results of MeriTalk's survey, a significant portion of government agencies have yet to pin down a streamlined approach to cloud migration, and security concerns are still at large.
That said, cloud vendors cited in the CIO report expressed confidence in the ability to fend off extremely elaborate cyberattacks, much in the same way that cybersecurity experts have been doing for legacy systems, with varying levels of success, for years. Among them was Rackspace CT John Engates.
"To be a player in the cloud you really, literally have to defend against some of the most sophisticated attacks on the planet on a regular basis, and so you get really good at it," Engates told CIO.
On the surface, Engates would obviously defend the security and integrity of the services that his company offers. However, there is some truth to his claims. Cloud computing is relatively new compared to legacy systems, and much of the fear surrounding implementation is based on wariness of change. And with the cost benefits and ease-of-sharing for government agencies becoming more apparent, the way forward appears to be improved cloud security, not back-peddling from what has the potential to be an extraordinary tool for productivity.
Sooner or later we'll just have to accept that the forecast for federal IT services is cloudy.