There is no one correct way for a government agency – whether federal, state, or local – to approach making the transition to the cloud. Between an agency’s culture and the endless array of choices that must be made, each agency has to find ways to identify its own priorities and strike its own balance. But move to the cloud they must.
That’s one conclusion to draw from the MeriTalk Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group’s “Hillversation” earlier this month on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), co-chair of the House Cloud Computing Caucus, was blunt in his keynote remarks.
“A majority of federal agencies responding to the question about not moving to the cloud say it’s because they’re worried about security. But the CIA is moving to the cloud,” he said. “And the idea that there are wholesale exceptions ‘because we’re unique …’ can’t be considered an acceptable argument.”
Connolly acknowledged that “there is growing frustration with [FedRAMP,] a program intended to be a one-stop shop.” What had been envisioned as providing efficiency at a relatively modest, manageable cost “has turned into a long and torturous process,” he said.
But it’s not something that Congress can fix with more legislation. “It’s not always the desirable solution to put stuff in a statute … Congress doesn’t do nuance,” Connolly observed. “But our patience is running out and we’re not going to allow the situation to continue.”
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), also a member of the Cloud Computing Caucus, suggested that the Washington bureaucracy is resistant to the new approach. “The technology we’re talking about has been around for a long time. It’s very disruptive to the bureaucrats … But guess what? It’s got to happen,” he said. “The status quo is stronger in Washington, D.C. than anywhere I’ve ever seen, but technology is disruptive of the status quo.”
He offered advice to the contractors attending the event. “When you’re feeling frustrated with the government, feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, remember what you’re doing. You’re not just selling your product to the government, you’re … doing something that is going to make people’s lives better, safer, and save them money.”
The cultural struggle within the federal government over how, when, and how much to move to the cloud, referenced by both Connolly and Farenthold, was on full display during the federal panel discussion.
On the side of fully embracing the cloud, immediately if not sooner: David Bray, CIO for the Federal Communications Commission. On the side of going slowly, cautiously, and with deference to the agency mission: Marlon Andrews, Deputy CIO at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Bray pointed to the success of his agency in moving to the cloud – for more than a year, the agency has been 100 percent in the cloud, using a commercial provider. He suggested the government shouldn’t be talking about data center consolidation, but data center elimination, with just three: one for the intelligence community, one for the Department of Defense, and one for civilian agencies.
Andrews countered that NARA’s unique role in the federal government, gathering and archiving data from all agencies, means truly staggering amounts of information flowing in daily, introducing additional complexities. As the final depository for government records, he said security is of paramount importance.
“There are a lot of groups that talk about cloud,” Andrews said. “I think that while we’re all in this together, we’re all spending taxpayers’ money, it’s a unique experience for each agency … The end goal, to me, is not to have everything in the cloud; it is to have the best working systems possible” to meet agency goals.
“I definitely agree in diversity of approaches,” said Tom Balaban, Region Director for Civilian Agencies at NetApp, who moderated the panel. “Agencies need to factor in how they use their data, as well as understanding the security requirements for the data they hold to make an informed decision about how they should embrace the cloud,” he continued. “The good news for agencies is that cloud service providers and their partners are offering solutions that are more flexible and secure than every before and there’s a range of supporting solutions that are enabling agencies to take full advantage of the benefits of the cloud.”