The hurdles on the federal government’s path toward the cloud

A recent New York Times story gave a thought-provoking overview on how a leaner, more Internet-centric future for government is being met with caution and why. Now that the architect of a new policy has departed, officials must find their own way forward.

During his 2½-year tenure as the White House chief information officer, Vivek Kundra (who’s speaking at Dell World in October) devised the federal “Cloud First” policy. It encourages the use of cloud services for new projects and requires agencies to move at least three projects to the cloud by summer 2012.

“Fixing IT is central to everything we’re trying to do across government,” Jeffrey Zients, the federal government’s first chief performance officer, told The Washington Post back in November when the cloud initiative was announced. “IT is our top priority.”

In the months since the “Cloud First” policy was announced, some agencies have begun migrating information from data centers while some, well, haven’t. And that primarily has to do with security. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which doesn’t deal with a ton of confidential information, has started moving more than 165,000 employee accounts. Meanwhile, the State Department’s sticking to low-risk projects, like a website for the Office of the Historian. And though cloud computing holds the potential to increase productivity at the Pentagon, with its hundreds of thousands of users all over the world, safeguarding sensitive information must take priority.

But the overall goal should be to increase efficiency once security concerns have been addressed. When it comes to government operations, you’re not going to find anyone arguing for less efficiency, especially with current economic, budgetary and political conditions. (Anyone arguing for that? Anyone? *crickets*)

So considering the federal government spends $80 billion a year on IT, any cost savings – which Kundra estimated to be at least $3 billion a year – would be welcome. (And if you’re interested in a fun tool to learn more about federal IT spending, check out the government’s official IT Dashboard.)

I think Teri Takai, the Defense Department’s chief information officer put it best: “When done with the proper considerations and planning, cloud computing will be a very effective and efficient tool.”

What do you think? What other factors should be considered when it comes to the federal government’s increased use of cloud computing?

About the Author: Ana Cantu