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How cloud vendors can win over skeptical federal buyers

Kenneth Corbin | July 15, 2014
The U.S. federal government has been making a lot of noise about moving its IT operations to the cloud. At the ground level, though, significant concerns around security and portability remain obstacles for would-be cloud service providers.

Government Cloud Use Defined by Small Steps
By technology standards, the term cloud computing is hardly new, but it's important to remember that it is still early days in the federal government's transition. The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers a helpful definition of cloud computing, but in practice, the cloud continues to mean different things to different people.

"The real problem has been identifying through acquisition what is cloud," says Maynard Crum, acting director of the Office of Strategic Programs at the Federal Acquisition Service.

Particularly in smaller agencies, the government's move to the cloud might mean simply farming out a commodity application such as email to a service provider such as Google. While large and small agencies alike have made more substantial progress in the cloud, with the Department of Homeland Security and West's PBGC among them, many other agencies lack have the in-house "expertise" to make similar moves, according to Crum.

"What's being purchased isn't large integrations of networks, it's email as a service, it's some kind of infrastructure as a service, it's some products, and they call it 'cloud,'" he says. "It's because that's easy. That's small, but it's in their ability to do that."

According to Crum, the feds have spent some $800 million in acquisitions of technologies identified as "cloud" solutions over the past two years. That's real money, to be sure, but a drop in the bucket when compared to the roughly $80 billion the federal government spends on IT each year.

Federal IT managers note that a significant portion of those expenditures fall to maintaining legacy systems. A Government Accountability Office has estimated legacy maintenance costs at 70 percent of the overall tech budget.

In light of those scarce resources, cloud providers that can demonstrate a full complement of service and support for their deployment and include those provisions in bold-face in the SLA might have more success in the contracting arena, according to Lawrence Gross, deputy CIO at the Department of Interior.

"We want the cloud vendors to provide the software," Gross says. "We want them to provide the end-to-end solution, so that all we're paying for is the service."


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