The National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded its latest forum on federal cloud computing earlier this month with the release of the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap designed to help federal agencies understand the essential characteristics of authentic cloud services.
From the point of view of those who provide cloud computing infrastructure services, though, the federal government still has a long way to go in learning how to utilize such services.
One of those providers is Carpathia Government Solutions, one of the biggest cloud computing providers to the federal government and one of the largest providers of managed services to industry.
Breaking Gov met with Carpathia Director Michael Fox earlier this month at one of Carpathia’s super secure cloud computing data facilities to talk about his perspective on the government’s progress with cloud computing.
Fox who offered his perspective on the different circumstances facing federal agencies that are considering a move to cloud services compared to their private sector counterparts, and why the federal government can do a lot better in terms of its cloud acquisition and deployment timelines.
Breaking Gov: You mentioned that the federal government is “at a tipping point” in terms of its cloud adoption. Where exactly is the federal government today in terms of adopting the cloud computing model?
Michael Fox: On the federal side, the adoption is accelerating but it’s more in its infancy.
I think Vivek Kundra (former federal government CIO) and his initiative of “cloud first” really resonates with the agencies.
Their adoption rates are slower than commercial companies for obvious reasons. First, they have to have the public interest and finance in mind. And if you look at the Department of Defense, you have mission critical interests that are paramount. So where the commercial world may want to move to the cloud quickly because it’s going to cut costs, provide efficiencies, the government has to take in more considerations. Moving a system into the cloud, a mission critical application could go down at the wrong time. Somebody could die. So, the interest on the government side is immense. The actual adoption rate and the movement to the cloud is just more of a slow roll.
Q. You mention reliability as a major consideration for federal agencies. What about security? Have we overcome the security concerns that many have pointed to in the past as a major obstacle to faster cloud adoption?
A. I think there are a couple of different camps of thinking around that. There’s one camp that thinks the cloud is more secure [than traditional computing models]. It’s more complex, it’s tougher to manage, therefore it’s tougher to identify your target and tougher to penetrate. The other camp, which has been the more predominant, says it’s less secure, it’s more complex and therefore there is a high probability of errors and system breakdowns. Carpathia takes a more middle-of-the-road approach. This is just an extension of what’s been going on for 20 years in the IT revolution. We believe we can keep the cloud secure, the data integrity high and the capacity and compute levels very high, and build in massive redundancy. And we believe we can do what we couldn’t do for the last 20 years, which is make it on-demand, pay as you use, and deploy it in one-tenth of the time that it used to take.
Q. Are there specific agencies you might point to as models of success to date in terms of their ability to recognize the benefits of moving to the cloud and actually working through the issues to reach deployment?
A. I think Health and Human Services (HHS), with their Grants.gov initiative, is a perfect example of an organization that is really trying to get out in front. There have been a number of Requests For Proposals (RFPs) that have come out of HHS that require cloud. And Grants.gov is hosted here at Carpathia in The Vault. What they’re trying to do is expand that program across agencies. There’s about 25 agencies that are using it and they want to expand that to 50. They’re using a lot of cloud technology to expand the program and deploy new applications and capabilities, as well as to get those programs out to market more quickly.
Another great example is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They’ve executed on a number of cloud initiatives, including e-mail recently. There are so many sub-agencies within DHS, programs and so much money involved that getting those efficiencies and being able to deploy to these diverse sites and being able to consolidate that using cloud, it fits very well from what they’re trying to achieve from a business perspective.
Q. We hear a lot from Congress and elsewhere that the government needs to move faster in its adoption of new technologies, like cloud services. But your point seems to be that there are very real, legitimate reasons, such as security and reliability, that the government cannot move as fast as the private sector. Can the government move faster in its cloud adoption?
A. They can move faster than they’re moving. I think we should be pushing the agencies in the public interest much more rapidly. The traditional procurement processes, for example, need to be modified to accept cloud services, so the agencies can get the money out to the programs and get the programs out to the public more quickly. An average deployment is currently 18 to 24 months. But a commercial entity can roll out a program in 30 days. The extreme differences are too extreme. I don’t think we can get it to the same level, but we can get it much closer.