Federal government's cloud app store has few takers, so far

Despite the establishment of the federal government's own internal 'app store,' agencies have barely touched cloud computing.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Despite the establishment of the federal government's own internal "app store," agencies have barely touched cloud computing.

A report in the Wall Street Journal reveals that efforts to introduce cloud computing among federal agencies is moving at a glacial pace.  In total, about 170 transactions have been made at the Apps.gov store since it was launched in September – a rate of about 20 a month. That's barely a dent in an organization with an $80-billion-dollar-a-year IT budget and 1,100 data centers.

Apps.gov, administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), categorizes available services by function (CRM, Data Management, Communications, etc.) to make it easier for federal government agencies to identify and compare products. Once purchasing decisions are made, agencies have a direct link to GSA’s online shopping and ordering system, GSA Advantage or eBuy, to make their purchase. Apps.gov also offers free social media and web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs, to federal agencies.

The WSJ report blames security concerns among federal agencies with using the cloud:

“The site is an online technology supermarket for federal agencies. It allows agencies to bypass the normal bidding process and quickly buy government-approved software and online services with credit cards. But concerns about compliance with security requirements and terms of service have prompted many agencies to bypass Apps.gov.”

Vivek Kundra, our national CIO, seems to suggest that he didn't expect any overnight miracles. “This is not an overnight process,” he is quoted as saying. “When I first came to the White House, I felt like I stepped back a decade when it came to information technology. A big part of that is that we don't have the Darwinian pressure of the consumer market to innovate.”

In addition, plans to offer cloud-based data storage services have also been delayed, but the WSJ article did not cite the reason.

It's not that federal managers aren't interested in cloud computing -- it's on the top of the list for most. In fact, a new survey of federal IT workers who attended FOSE this year by ScienceLogic finds that cloud computing saw a substantial increase on agency priority lists -- from 41% in 2009 to 58% this year. Actual adoption remains fairly low (7%) but planned cloud initiatives jumped from just 12% last year to one in three with cloud initiatives planned for this year. Private clouds are coming first, with 17% naming it on their list of major IT initiatives this year versus 13% listing public cloud plans.

Security is one leading concern, but a separate report suggests that federal agency budget cycles may also cause slow adoption rates for cloud computing. The federal government is a huge ship, with many systems dating back to the 1980s. The move to cloud computing is a dramatic one for a huge siloed organizations with many entrenched interests.

A report published at the end of last year by Booz Allen Hamilton estimates that it would take 18-24 months before cloud computing began to really take hold at many agencies, due to the budget process, and the amount of time it takes agencies to redirect funding. After that, “implementations may take several years,” particularly among agencies with complex IT infrastructures. The consultancy urged the federal Office of Management and Budget to offer incentives to agencies that pursue cloud, such as a percentage of the savings gained from moving to cloud, as well as provide metrics.

Booz Allen Hamilton estimates that are potentially enormous gains to be seen in federal agencies move to the cloud. Their results confirm the government's expectations of cost savings; for a non-virtualized 1,000-server data center, the benefits to costs ratio in their recent study reflected a range of 5.7 to 15.4, with benefits to cost ratios for the largest data centers ranging potentially as high as 25 times the initial investment.

So there's plenty of savings -- not to mention the potential for increased flexibility and responsiveness by federal agencies. Cloud promises overnight efficiency gains. But cloud won't happen overnight.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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