Cloud computing gets more complicated, govvies say

Federal executives find that the decision to migrate to the cloud is not just a go-no go decision.

The move to the cloud is not longer in question but that doesn't make the technology a one-size fits all solution.

In some ways, the decision to move to the cloud has gotten more complicated as federal CIOs learn about the nuances of cloud computing.

For example, in the early days of the cloud, it was a question of go or no-go. Now agencies must decide which model is most appropriate for them: private (government only), public (commercially available) or hybrid. And that decision depends on the specifics of an agency’s application, said David McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“How [the cloud] meets the requirements that stakeholders are putting in place is really the challenge we’re sorting through right now,” he said.

McClure and Robert Carey, deputy CIO at the Defense Department, offered their perspectives during a panel discussion on April 3 at the FOSE Conference in Washington, D.C. The event is organized by 1105 Media, the parent company of Washington Technology.

At DOD, decisions about migrating systems to the cloud must be made in light of the department’s larger goals.

DOD is seeking to homogenize its computing environment, a task Carey said is a tall order. A more uniform network architecture across the four main military services would provide DOD with better security and enhanced access to information “from any device, any time, anywhere around the planet,” he said.

“I’m trying to connect some guys walking around Kandahar or the Helmand province [in Afghanistan] with the same information and expectations you and I might have,” Carey said. “That end of the information chain is just as important as — or more important [than] — stratifying things back here.”

Although the department will manage its own cloud environment, DOD officials will look to commercial cloud providers to bridge the gap between demand and capacity, Carey said.

Some DOD components, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, already operate in a cloud environment, at least to some extent. But DOD as a whole has taken “a very deliberate pace” to make that transition because of its vast size, Carey said.

While DOD is taking baby steps toward the cloud, the civilian side has already seen “hundreds, maybe thousands” of successful implementations, primarily in infrastructure as a service and software as a service, McClure said.

“[Cloud computing] is a technology trend that’s inevitable; it’s not as though anyone can completely stick their head in the sand and say, ‘I’ll wait for...the next thing to come,’” he said.

Nevertheless, agencies have mandates and requirements that influence their decisions. In an ideal situation, agencies would embrace the notion of locationless computing that commercial cloud providers can offer, with information available to anyone, anywhere at anytime. But it’s not that simple.

“This theory of locationless computing still has to meet the requirements the government puts on it, and in some cases, as we’ve discovered, solutions can’t be locationless,” McClure said.