The shape of things to come in government cloud computing will lie in models that are evolving on the state and local level, and may look a lot like what is taking place in Utah and Michigan, according to a new report from research group IDC Government Insights.

The era of the “server down the hall” is over, states the report. Instead, the nascent paradigm for state and local cloud computing will take the form of regional, government-to-government hubs, according to the report. An abstract of the report, entitled “Regional Community Cloud Hubs: the New ‘Trickle Down’ Effect That’s Boosting State and Local Computing” is available at no charge.

“What’s happening now is that progressive government IT departments are assembling portfolios of cloud services that they can offer to internal and external government end users,” according to the report.

The report defines the framework as “regional cloud hubs,” a platform in which one government agency, often at the state level, offers computing services to other government agencies–state, county, city and other local entities.

The 21-page study examines two current examples of emerging government-to-government cloud services, those being offered by Utah and Michigan. IT shops in those states are “well on their way” to building cloud hubs that can be used by multiple government agencies at various levels of government, according to report.

“This document proposes that cloud hubs will see rapid growth, since these first multiagency efforts already have shown a positive return on investment and solid service levels,” according to the report.

“In general, it will be the larger government operations that already manage complex IT systems which will evolve to be the mostly likely regional hosts. Smaller government agencies may choose to get out of most IT hosting and management, as long as they can find good, affordable and privately hosted solutions through the cloud.”

The report’s thesis that regional cloud hubs represent the future is more than conjecture, said Shawn McCarthy, research director of IDC government Insights and the author of the study.

Byproduct of data center consolidation

“It’s a prediction,” he told Breaking Gov. “That prediction is that [state and local] governments have such common computing requirements that those computing requirements can be approached in a much more standardized way and when that happens, what they consume from an IT standpoint becomes a commodity offering that they can get from another provider.”

McCarthy says in the report that the trend toward regional cloud hubs is a side effect of application and data center consolidation efforts that have been in the works at various levels of government.

“As government workers started interacting with systems located miles away from their offices (rather than down the hall), both (chief information officers and chief financial officers) have seen that their organizations no need to be in the business of owning and operating multiple IT solutions,” the report contends.

Broadly speaking, the report argues, governments tend to prefer private cloud solutions, including three distinct types of offerings: purely government-owned and operated clouds; clouds that are managed by a vendor but located in a government facility; and clouds that are owned and managed by a vendor at an off-site location, though all of the computing is done on machines that are dedicated to government-only customers.

The report says that Utah, which is on the forefront of offering hosted cloud services to other government agencies, is building a hybrid approach to its regional hub, blending both state-hosted services and commercial offerings. The state plans to offer cloud services to state agencies, cities and counties in Utah.

For managers at the county and city level, migrating applications and services to a regional cloud hub offers peace of mind when it comes to security, McCarthy said.

“In general, the cloud tends to be a little bit more secure simply because the [vendors] are in that business-that’s what they do 24 hours a day, offering secure connections to secure content,” he said. “Whereas for a small town doing their own [computing services], they have to worry about all the patches, the software updates, and about [cyber attacks]. It’s more work for them.”

Overall, the trend toward regional cloud hubs has to the potential to create “game-changing” consequences, McCarthy said. By selling cloud services to other agencies, host agencies can offset costs and generate revenue. In addition, local governments can buy cheaper cloud solutions than they might find on their own.