The IT Road Less Traveled

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The IT Road Less Traveled

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Government IT Departments Must Go Private, Not Public, Cloud

By Jean-Paul Bergeaux
Chief Technology Officer, SwishData

I feel for the federal agency IT departments. They are faced with a mandate to go cloud-first, but moving IT to a public cloud (SaaS) is mostly a business decision, not an IT decision. Let’s be honest, a public cloud offering is not really a technical change from what large agencies’ IT department can do themselves. So it’s really about shifting risk to an external entity and converting IT costs to operating budget (OPEX) instead of capital budget (CAPEX).

They have all the tools and knowledge to assess the technical viability of public cloud options, but are pressured by policy to move forward whether or not it makes sense. That’s just bad policy. Not only are there larger ramifications of going to a SaaS solution, but also most IT departments aren’t responsible for all the cost to do a true return on investment (ROI) calculation. Just two examples are floor space and electricity costs. GSA and direct agency contracts are usually with an agency as a whole and often include the cost for power. IT departments are not privy to the difficult process of offloading those properties, which ABC and FoxNews have reported over the years.

Then what does that IT department and agency do about the projected reduction in staff? Whether the IT departments could be reduced is something that can be debated, but agencies can’t just reduce staff as easily as a private company. They will have to absorb costs within public cloud options that they do not manage the budget for, such as the aforementioned energy and space. Suddenly, their IT-only dollars have to absorb these costs while getting reduced budgets from Congress and their agency. In the end, what is the motivation and benefit for these IT departments to go public cloud?

The answer can only be a private cloud. Before recent advances such as virtualization, blade server and IT management technology, consolidating IT departments across an agency was not feasible, nor desirable. The result has been hundreds of small- and medium-sized data centers littering government buildings all across the country. They are no longer the most efficient way to manage IT, and the best result of the cloud-first initiative should be the consolidation of these groups together in private clouds.

With today’s modern virtualized data center tools, a private cloud with all of these agencies ‘owning’ their IT within the consolidated infrastructure has real potential to save government agencies serious money. All this can be achieved without introducing security and information assurance problems and mind-bending ROI calculations.

This movement is not without some challenges; the two largest being, each department trusting that they will keep their autonomy in such a venture, and also how to fund an agency-wide private cloud project. These issues must be managed as an entire agency, not by individual IT departments. If it is ever effectively done, the government stands to save billions of taxpayer dollars.

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Posted by Jean-Paul Bergeaux on Jun 26, 2012 at 12:18 PM

Reader comments

Thu, Aug 16, 2012

This viewpoint completely misses the point behind the cloud-first policy of the current administration. There are huge cost savings to be had. Time after time, every comparison shows a reduction in cost of anywhere from 30% (for hosted services like email) to more than 90% for projects like internet sites. Its just like any other area of the economy. The efficiency of the market is making some of these jobs superflous and although I feel sorry for the folks in the IT infrastructure data centers, but the reality is that their jobs are becoming obsolete. There is no way they can provide the same level of service and cost savings that can be achieved by the private cloud providers like Amazon and Google. The attempt to stand up private clouds is nothing more than a futile attempt to save their jobs rather than focusing on delivering value add and retraining the staff in question. Also, programs like FedRAMP are ensuring that security is not compromised in the pursuit of cost savings. Many agencies that move their systems to the cloud find out that their security has actuall improved over what they had before. Since SwishData is in the business of helping people stand up private clouds, I find this viewpoint by the author a bit disingenuous.

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