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Three Keys to Tapping Cloud’s Potential in Government, Part 1: Innovate

Note: This is the first of a 3-part series on how Federal organizations can best exploit the potential of cloud computing in the Federal IT enterprise.

The cloud is rapidly becoming the way to conduct the business of IT across the industry. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings are maturing – both internally and across the service provider ecosystem. Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings are also maturing and still showing growth across the industry. There is also a significant amount of activity in the Software as a Service (SaaS) as enterprises continue to see the value of having somebody else provide non-mission software on-demand. While each of these cloud services are maturing and increasing in adoption, the software defined data center (see recent blog by VMware CTO Steve Herrod) offers even more potential for innovation in government.

Few, if any, would say that the government has tapped into the potential of cloud. While the migration to the cloud is clearly underway and continuing, efforts thus far are only scratching the surface of the real potential. I read recently that the total IT budget in the U.S. Federal government of $80 billion is only about 15% of the government’s total budget. Yet, current cloud efforts are only hoping to address efficiencies associated with only 20% of that $80 billion. Thus, the focus of the current government cloud initiative is only 3% of the total government’s budget – a measly percentage. How can the government get past this mere 3% savings opportunity to tap into a much larger bucket of savings? Answer: reach outside of IT into mission programs for savings.

The first approach to tapping into cloud’s potential in government is to leverage the cloud for innovation (not just efficiency). Most have come to realize that the cost savings from the cloud are real and that efficiency is important. For example, a recent Government Computer News (GCN) post cites an OMB official who identified about $100 million per year in savings starting in 2013.

Innovation is the creation of something that is better and more effective. Derived from the Latin word “innovare,” innovation means to change rather than to do the same thing better. The cloud presents numerous cost reduction opportunities – the greatest of which will be achieved only through innovation. For example:

  • IaaS – and the underlying Virtualization foundation – provide substantial cost reduction opportunities. Many Federal agencies are accomplishing this today through server and data center consolidation initiatives. But those are only the beginning steps of achieving IaaS, and the cost savings and agility it can deliver. Organizations that master their physical data centers through virtualization and consolidation can evolve to a software defined data center model that facilitates true resource automation, efficiency and agility. This is more meaningful to the mission than simple business process automation. The software defined data center offers an unprecedented level of agility, which can add more value to the mission than simply IaaS. When an agency is facing a seasonal peak in transaction volumes, the computing resources necessary to carry out the extra workloads can be automatically provisioned and utilized whether internal or external. Even in the case of an unexpected spike in volumes, this degree of automation can detect and provision the resources necessary even if the spike was not anticipated. Also, in a software defined data center, an out of compliance condition can automatically be detected and quarantined or even remediated across the entire infrastructure.
  • PaaS – and the Cloud Application Platform (CAP) – can substantially simplify the middleware environment and facilitate software development by getting application developers out of the business of building and maintaining development infrastructure common to most software development and testing efforts. It also presents the path to modernize or outright replace legacy applications, and extend their applicability to more of the Federal workforce. When application developers can focus more of their time on creating and testing solutions to real problems – versus infrastructure maintenance or waiting weeks for infrastructure to be provisioned – real innovation can occur. And this is most broadly and efficiently possible via the cloud. Many processes and infrastructure elements are common to application development, and they can be automated to enable developers to skip routine activities and go right to work writing code. In addition, automated application services such as databases and middleware on demand also increase the productivity of application developers. For example, providing a database to an application development team is a time consuming, costly and potentially risky activity. It requires database analysts and software developers to work extensively with each other to understand the requirements and limitations around storage needs, performance, access, and security. PaaS virtually eliminates the cost, time, and risks associated with providing a database by allowing development teams to select from catalogs of pre-configured databases running on virtual machines, which meet the specific requirements of the application (e.g. Division, Enterprise, External web-site, etc.) and application life-cycle (e.g. Development, QA, Production). Application development cycles are further accelerated by significantly enhancing “built-in” mobile application services. For example, PaaS platforms can provide an application framework and infrastructure for detecting mobile device access and then rendering and delivering a native user interface experience based upon the mobile device accessing the application running on the PaaS. Each of these enhancements is made even more significant when the sheer number of applications that need to be mobile enabled to allow for anytime, anywhere access by federal employees.
  • SaaS – and the End User Computing (EUC) environment – is the vehicle to provide the Federal workforce and citizens with the anytime, anywhere and secure access to meaningful information and applications, in other words, Digital Government (link). This is much more than enabling Federal personnel to work from home. So many agencies employ personnel who are field-based – examining patents, protecting our borders, investigating job applicants for security clearances, inspecting farms to ensure compliance with Federal regulations or managing Federally protected lands. Most of these public servants are not enabled to do their reporting and communications from ‘the field’ – they are writing their inputs and reports by hand, only to go back to their desk-bound PCs to transcribe that data into an electronic format. Efficiencies like this abound in a SaaS-enabled enterprise.

Through a combination of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS offerings, CIOs and the IT organizations they lead across government can help position their agencies for meaningful mission innovations via the cloud. When these capabilities are utilized to solve mission related challenges and deliver innovative applications and services for critical government programs, then the government will begin to tap into cloud’s real potential. Yes, more than just technology is required. Stay tuned for part two of this three part series which addresses some of the non-technical challenges that need to be overcome.

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Pat Fiorenza

This was a really informative and interesting post. Thanks for sharing. Cloud is definitely just being tapped into – and as stated, wider adoption outside the IT/CIO shops will really help to drive costs down. Seems like for cloud to extend more broadly across government there will need to be a lot of great case studies to build on and adopt, thankfully, I feel like we are seeing these more and more everyday. It’s my hope that with FedRAMP and “cloud first” strategy, adoption of the cloud will pick up exponentially over the next few years. Looking forward to future posts!

Doug Bourgeois

Thanks for the feedback, Pat. You are on to something with the case study suggestion. As you know, in gov’t usually the early adopters take much risk as the others sit back and wait to see what happens. There are many cloud successes in gov’t already but the word is difficult to get out. Towards this end, I am speaking with a Federal CTO at the upcoming 1105 Cloud & Virtualization Conference in October (22-23) in DC http://bit.ly/Qzql65. We are going to cover big picture IT trends and how some of those trends are already being implemented successfully at a Federal Agency. Come hear us talk if you can!