By Shawn Rodriguez
One might assume, based on the volume of conversation and coverage of the Cloud, that government agencies at every level (Federal, state, county, city) are far along the path to replacing legacy systems across their organization with Cloud infrastructure, and experiencing all the utopian promises and gains that go with it. Unfortunately, that is not yet quite the case.
Government Cloud gains are certainly evident, and more importantly poised to accelerate in 2014. The National Association of State CIOs said Cloud computing is their top tech priority for 2014, eyeing advantages in terms of saving money through shared services, improved security, more robust infrastructure, and operational efficiencies.
The gut-check is that, today, most if not all agencies are in the evaluation stage for Cloud solutions to accommodate their critical infrastructure and applications. In other words, they are not necessarily committing to Cloud adoption, but are committing to evaluating Cloud computing as a viable and potentially preferable alternative.
For local government decision makers, accelerating and smoothing a transition to Cloud services can benefit from a handful of considerations:
The Cloud is not a ‘thing’
Government decision makers must recognize that the Cloud is not a physical product; instead, it redefines operational and business processes. This is important to understand as it relates to expectations. Initial justification for Cloud adoption often focuses on cost savings and commoditizing IT. But the benefits of the Cloud cannot be measured in commodity terms of dollars per bit, byte, or instance, and should be viewed as a way to redefine the new normal in how the public sector conducts its business. You will save money, but it will be based on operational efficiencies, reduced time to market and elasticity.
The Cloud is not about public vs. private vs. hybrid
To date, most local governments assembling their Cloud strategy have focused on a single Cloud architecture – be it public or private – dictated largely by an agency’s specific requirements and operational soundness. But as 2014 progresses, more decision makers will realize that they will need to leverage multiple Cloud solutions and architectures (including hybrid Clouds) to meet their dynamic business and technology challenges. Government organizations seeking that balance between scalability and security will gravitate towards public compute and the use of public networks and servers, along with private Cloud storage whereby the agency can retain control over their most sensitive and valuable asset – data. The hybrid Cloud model allows for agencies to maintain control of their data while fully maximizing Cloud computing economics.
Feel secure about security
The most critical asset an agency has is the data of its people. Anytime a partner or a vendor proposes moving that data outside of an agency’s physical purview, or asks government decision makers to relinquish control of their data, it signals the yellow flag of caution and will give any CIO pause.
Cloud security should be a focus, but not a roadblock. For agencies, it can be difficult to silo one type of breach from another, and to recognize that the Cloud as a delivery model is not the source of most risks and vulnerabilities. Partner with Cloud vendors that have a proven track record and can demonstrate security SLAs with teeth, rather than SLAs that are marketing gimmicks or check-the-box lists that will not bail out an agency if an issue arises.
Avoid vendor lock-in with a Cloud exit strategy
For as prudent as an agency is entering the Cloud, it must plan equally to avoid vendor lock-in by establishing a sound Cloud vendor exit strategy. An analogy to is the telecom boom in the early 2000s following government deregulation of that industry. In a matter of months, hundreds and thousands of start-up service providers popped up. Fast-forward a couple of years, and many of these start-ups went bust because they were never truly viable businesses in the first place. Many organizations did not have an exit strategy and either suffered painful transitions or paid through the nose to ease the process. Agencies should avoid making that same mistake and plan for an exit strategy that can be executed rapidly and cost-effectively with minimal disruption to operations.
Shawn Rodriguez is Senior Director, State & Local Government and Education at NetApp