Since its inception, cloud computing has managed to transform the business landscape in unforeseen ways. While the private sector has been capitalizing on the multiple benefits of cloud computing for a while now; government organizations have also aggressively started to embrace the cloud. As it stands, the IT environment of most government organizations is typified by poor asset utilization, duplicative processes, a fragmented demand for resources, poorly managed environments, and prolonged delays in getting things done. The end result is an in-efficacious system that has a negative impact on the organization’s ability to serve the American public. The innovation, agility and cost benefits of a private cloud computing model can significantly enhance government service delivery. A move to the cloud for government organizations directly translates to public value, by improving operational efficiency and the response time to constituent needs.
The Cloud First Initiative
In February 2011, the first Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, announced cloud first. The policy was presented as a crucial aspect of government reform efforts to achieve operational efficiencies by cutting the waste and help government agencies deliver constituent services in a more streamlined and faster way. Up to 2014, the adoption rate was slow. A 2014 report by the U.S Government Accountability Office showed that only 2% of IT spending went towards cloud computing that year. However, the tide has shifted in recent years. Agencies across the federal government have espoused cloud computing solutions and architectures to facilitate services to constituents and reduce the reliance on the large-scale, traditional IT infrastructure investments.
Currently, AWS reports that GovCloud, has grown 221% year-over-year since it was launched in 2011. Microsoft also claims that Microsoft Cloud for Government, which includes office 365 government, Dynamics CRM, and Azure Government. Has attracted over 5.2 million users. Despite its palpable success, Cloud First has had its share of critics, including those censorious of the trouble-prone launch of HealthCare.gov. Critics have blamed the perceived slow adoption on the lack of federal technical experience in cloud deployments. Below are some of the compelling reasons why government agencies should adopt a private cloud computing model.
I. Reduced Infrastructure Costs
By consolidating server footprints via virtualization and cloud efforts, govt agencies significantly reduce the cost of IT ownership. Agencies that operate in house IT gear have to deal with data center security on top of hardware, software and network maintenance. These are all resource intensive workloads that cloud vendors handle on behalf of their clients. The minute an agency offloads all of it, it free itself up to focus on the particular capabilities and features it has to offer. Private cloud computing solutions are typically bundled with asset management, threat and fraud prevention and detection, and monitoring programs. Adopting a private cloud model enables government agencies to become agile and responsive towards changing business conditions.
II. Big Data Consensus
The IDC reports that approximately 2.5 exabytes of data is produced on a daily basis. Government agencies have a ton of data and having a human look at all of if is virtually impossible. The old model of data distribution greatly diminishes that datas value to end-users, and ultimately to the taxpayer. A private cloud computing model is the answer to big data analysis. Tools that utilize artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing can be used to quickly and accurately examine terabytes of data for anomalies and patterns; thus helping federal officials to make informed decisions. Additionally, once data has been made available via the cloud, its is readily accessible, meaning resource requests that previously took months to processes can be handled in a short time.
III. Data Sovereignty and Regional Concerns
When it comes to the cloud, ownership of data assets leads to more questions. Erosion of information asset ownership is undoubtedly a potential concern when resources are moved to any external system –public cloud included. There is an inherent difference between being responsible for data as a custodian and having complete ownership of it. Despite the fact that legal data ownership stays with the originating data owner, a potential area of concern with a public cloud deployment is that the cloud vendor may acquire both roles. The EU has been at the forefront to clear up the confusion and on the 25th of May 2018 will introduce a directive that establishes new rules to aid its citizens retain full control over personal data.
Another area of concern includes the complex legal, technical and governance issues that surround hosting government data in varying jurisdictions. Governments are known to like concrete boarders; but the cloud is global, it transcends physical spaces and boarders. Since the services exist globally, and users can interact and share data remotely; what states or municipalities are responsible for the data? Whose laws apply or don’t apply to any given exchange?
US government agencies have to adopt cloud strategies aimed at retaining sovereignty over government data. For any government agency seeking flexible and scalable data center solutions, a private cloud deployment can tie a range of integrated and end-to-end solutions that leverage cloud capabilities together. With a private cloud, the complexity of legal and government regulations are taken out of the equation. The data is maintained by the govt agency employees and is made available via internally-managed technology platforms or SaaS solutions like FileCloud. The ownership or jurisdiction of the data is no longer in question.
IV. You Deployed it, Now Secure It
Security is typically the top concern for federal IT managers when it comes to the migration of applications and data into the cloud. Governments understand that information is power, data is a crucial asset. Federal agencies represent a huge chunk of the globes largest data repositories, ranging from tax, employment, weather, agriculture and surveillance data among others. A recent study by MeriTalk revealed that only one in five of the Federal IT professionals surveyed believe that the security offered by cloud providers is sufficient for federal data. However, the same study also concluded that 64 percent of federal IT managers are more likely to place their cloud-based applications in a private cloud.
Why private cloud? Control. A private cloud deployment meets the required, strict security needs with more resource control and data isolation. Government organizations have to send and receive sensitive information while ensuring it’s only accessible to authorized users. Additionally, that have to maintain control of each user’s read and write rights to said data. Public cloud solutions simply don’t fit the bill for most govt agencies because the deployed applications and data have to remain completely under agency control. Private cloud solutions enable govt agencies to leverage their existing security infrastructure, while staying in control of their data. Since the deployment functions within your existing framework, the need to reinvent govt processes or security policies is eliminated.
Fed RAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) standardizes security services and streamlines assessments so that any cloud vendor being considered by federal agencies is only evaluated once at a federal level. Safeguarding the security and integrity of data falls upon individual government organizations. A private cloud model gives organizations better performance and security control over the physical infrastructure that underlies its virtual servers.
V. Cross Agency Collaboration
Government agencies require a digital terrain through which to comfortably and confidently collaborate across, irrespective of agency or department. For example, different agencies may need to share compliance data, regulatory documents, case information or disaster response plans. For optimal collaboration efficacy, these resources have to be accessible to the workers within their respective organizations, to outside contractors, and the general public, when needed. Government agencies can leverage the security infrastructures and on-premises directories of a private cloud. Ensuring that sensitive data remains within the control of the organization, and only authorized persons have access to it. A private gov-cloud allows government organizations to collaborate both internally and across extended ecosystems in a compliant, secure and audit-able manner.
VI. Citizen Service Delivery
Most local, state and federal government agencies offer a variety of citizen services. Cloud computing helps in the delivery of those services and subsequently improves the lives of citizens on all those level. For example, enabling constituents to monitor water and energy consumption encourages them to be more vigilant about their usage. Quick and transparent access to service requests such as loans and application improves awareness and inclusion. A private cloud computing model is an ideal way of empowering and informing citizens.
Cloud computing delineates an amazing opportunity to drastically revolutionize how government organizations manage, processes and share information. Although addressing all the challenges associated with cloud adoption can seem ominous, especially if a government organization lacks the expertise in cloud migration and deployment. Nevertheless, its clear that government agencies wish to perpetuate high standards of privacy, security and cost management, in their pursuit to transform operations into a flexible, dynamic environment. The most ideal solution for them is a private cloud.
Author: Gabriel Lando