Cloud computing may still be emerging as an IT delivery model, but U.S. government agencies are forging ahead with plans to adopt cloud services or build their own. The attitude among government technology decision makers seems to be that the benefits outweigh the risks and that the risks can be mitigated with planning and careful implementation.
With a nudge from federal CIO Vivek Kundra -- Kundra was an early adopter of Google Apps when he was CTO for the District of Columbia -- a growing number of federal agencies are plugging into the cloud. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), for example, is well along in building an internal cloud in its data centers. And NASA's Ames Research Center recently launched a cloud computing environment called Nebula.
At the same time, government technology planners are working to ensure that the rollouts go smoothly. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has drafted a definition of cloud computing to keep implementers on the right track. And the General Services Administration has issued an RFI to cloud service and platform providers, in an effort to scope out the market in advance of demand.
At the Federal IT On A Budget Forum in Washington in May, speakers from the Army, DISA, GSA, NASA, NIST, and the departments of Defense, Energy, and Interior hashed through many of the problems they face as their organizations adopt, or contemplate adopting, cloud platforms and services. Security, compliance with federal regulations, interoperability, and IT skills development all came up as issues still to be resolved.
Yet a can-do mind-set has government technology managers sounding like it's a matter of when, not if, they'll overcome those hurdles and implement cloud services. "You're seeing adoption in some places you never would have expected," says Henry Sienkiewicz, technical program director with DISA's Computing Services Division.