Cloud Computing Offers Government Solutions

October 15, 2009
Katie Packard

Cloud computing can solve many problems that state and federal governments are experiencing with traditional network-based systems. Through its cost-effective, flexible options, cloud computing enables organizations to move the burden of network management from their own staff to a host environment.

State and federal agencies are facing reduced technology budgets, a shortage of skilled technology staff members and a lack of a consistent and centralized information technology planning process, Teresa Bozzelli, vice president of government markets at Bozzelli Enterprises, says. These and other factors are driving organizations to seek the cost-effective solutions offered through cloud computing.

Bozelli and Kapil Bakshi, chief solution architect at Cisco Systems, were the guest speakers for “Why Is Cloud Computing So Compelling for Government and Education?” The Digital Government Institute sponsored the webinar, which included definitions of cloud computing, discussions of the real and perspective barriers to cloud implementation, and an examination of cloud-computing architecture in relation to government and education needs.

The federal government has lengthy acquisition cycles, which increase costs to maintain legacy systems, Bozzelli notes. Many organizations are looking for options that reduce cost and increase flexibility, Bakshi adds. Not only does cloud computing reduce complexity, cost and power, he shares, but it is more efficient and easier to operate than a network-based platform.

Through cloud computing, an organization can easily scale up or scale down its service based on its needs. That flexibility can be attractive to organizations with fluctuating system requirements.

Cloud computing enables convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources, Bozzelli explains, citing the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s definition. These resources can include networks, servers, storage and applications that can be tailored and released quickly with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.

The government has seen successful cloud-computing implementations. The Defense Information Systems Agency has a private cloud called Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE). It includes services for infrastructure and platform and software capabilities via a self-service portal over the network. NASA’s Ames Research Center also has launched a cloud-computing environment called Nebula that is similar to RACE.

Cloud computing has been adopted at the state level as well. Washington and Maine have statewide data center modernization contracts despite their budget issues. Texas and Virginia use private-sector providers for technology services and resources, while Florida has a master contract for statewide access to resources.

Bozzelli notes that using cloud computing is not without its hurdles, although some of them are only perceived barriers. For example, performance can be considered an obstacle; however, cloud computing often can offer better performance than traditional networks. Cost is both a real and a perceived barrier; cloud computing can be as efficient and cost effective as the organization chooses, depending on the options it selects. Security is a perceived threat, although Bozzelli offers that a security policy should be clearly defined. Once the policy is in place, however, the cloud can provide better security.

For organizations considering the move to cloud computing, Bozzelli recommends that they understand their enterprise architecture and current resources. “Know which of your services can go to this platform,” she says. Identify services and data that can co-exist or go outside physical and ownership boundaries. She also recommends creating a cloud integration and migration strategy. “A road map is very necessary,” she adds.

The webinar is the first in a three-part series titled “Can Government and Education Cloud Computing Deliver Value?” The second webinar, “Can the Cloud Be Secured?,” is available online. The last in the series, “How to Take Advantage of Cloud Computing,” will be broadcast on October 29 at 2 p.m. EST. For more information, visit the Digital Government Institute Web site. 

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Re: "The federal government has lengthy acquisition cycles, which increase costs to maintain legacy systems"... This is but one of many issues that add billions in unncecessary legacy app maintenance costs.

I'd be interested in understanding if public cloud security concerns are the main inhibitor to cloud adoption in the federal space, would private cloud models potentially ameliorate security issues while still achieving serious cost savings ?

Barriers to saving costs include hotly political issues with entrenched interests. It would also be interesting to understand how the success cases overcame status quo.

Thanks for commenting, Ken. You make a good point, and the decision to move to cloud computing isnt an easy one for any organization to make. There are lots of factors to consider, not the least of which what you mentioned here.

For those of you in government or who are considering cloud computing, what do you think?