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Federal Agencies Cautious of Cloud Commitment

Although government agencies understand the benefits of migrating services to the cloud, nearly three quarters of federal cloud users remain wary of fully committing to cloud computing, according to MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government IT.

Meritalk’s new report, Cloud without Commitment, underwritten by Red Hat and Cisco, examined federal barriers to cloud adoption including migration, data portability, integration and future agility.

Surveying 150 public sector IT professionals, Meritalk found most federal cloud users want to migrate more services to the cloud, with nearly one in five saying they deliver some of their agency’s IT services fully or partially via the cloud. However, security and control concerns are preventing them from fully embracing the cloud.

The surveyed IT professionals estimated that 32 percent of their data cannot be moved to the cloud due to security or data sovereignty issues. Moreover, while federal cloud users put Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) certification—a standardized set of security requirements for cloud—on their wish, almost a quarter of agencies are uncomfortable sharing sensitive data with FedRAMP-certified cloud providers.

However, Meritalk found agencies that use or are open to using open-source are seeing greater cloud success than the average. Seventy-two percent say data security has improved by moving services to the cloud in the past year versus 47 percent of those not using/open to using open source options.

“Open source is not only driving much of the technology innovation in cloud, it is also enabling government agencies to answer their questions about cloud portability and integration,” said Mike Byrd, senior director, Government Channel Sales, Red Hat. “In this way, it is not surprising to me that the survey respondents who have embraced open source reported greater cloud success.”

The report also revealed that more than half of federal cloud users say cloud/legacy system integration is a barrier to further migration. Their concerns echo those of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last year that found many government agencies only consider moving to the cloud when the legacy technology needs to be modernized or replaced.

According to GAO, General Services Administration officials indicated that, “as they move the management of servers and software off site, a continuing challenge is getting agency staff to adapt to an operational environment where they do not have direct control and access to agency IT resources.”

Moreover, the Meritalk report indicates that of the federal cloud users currently using or open to open-source software, 67 percent of respondents have found that data is safer in the cloud than in legacy systems.

“Particularly with mission-critical systems, Feds want assurance they can integrate with legacy tools, and easily migrate data between the two,” said Mike Younkers, director, US Federal Systems Engineering at Cisco. “Open source opens up new options. And, Feds using open source are reporting positive results.”

Although the report indicated federal agencies continue to lag behind in migrating to the cloud, initiatives like Cloud First and FedRAMP have pushed them to test the waters. Agencies have started small by moving simple systems, such as emailand website hosting, to the cloud. However, security concerns continue to hinder the move of more complicated systems, like enterprise resource planning and custom apps.

Starting small is a step in the right direction, according to Meritalk. Agencies should begin by migrating services with low security and privacy concerns and less operational risk before attempting to move to more complicated systems.

Moreover, Meritalk said agencies that have worked with a cloud consultant outside their agency have a smoother transition moving to the cloud, with 56 percent of those surveyed indicating that a consultant was “very helpful.”

Agencies should also work with a cloud provider who understands the agency’s unique needs and can help integrate cloud data with legacy systems. Exploring other options, such as open-source, can also open new doors and further cloud adoption.

“Feds don’t have to always be the bridesmaid when it comes to cloud,” said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk. “Connect with peers who have been down the aisle. And if you feel locked in –get a good prenup. Cloud is all about choice and agility. Otherwise, we end up back where we started.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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