The Defense Department's forced march to the public cloud

Government CIOs have wasted taxpayer dollars through private-cloud build-outs, but Congress' cure may be just as bad

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directs the DoD (Department of Defense) to transition from private clouds controlled by the DoD to public, commercial clouds. The idea is that commercial clouds can provide better service at a lower cost to the taxpayers. But critics say that through this law "Congress has now increased costs, delays, and security risks for the DoD."

Having watched this work progress over the last several years, I believe Congress is right on this decision.

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The act's language clearly indicates a bias "to cloud computing services generally available within the private sector that provide a better capability at a lower cost with the same or greater degree of security." You can bet this came from the cloud computing lobbyists wandering around the District of Columbia. But as an overall policy, public cloud as the preferred option when all else is equal is correct.

Needless to say, many government IT people are freaking out. The act requires government agencies to fund a migration plan and migrate to commercially available public cloud providers. The bad news for taxpayers is that much of the cloud work already completed, such as the DoD private clouds built by DISA, will have to fall by the wayside.

But those private DoD clouds were not the right choice in the first place. In fact, most of the private cloud development at the DoD and other government agencies was a huge waste of taxpayer money. And many of the security issues raised around the use of public cloud computing providers to justify those private-cloud data center buildouts were simply bogus.

I don't agree with the DoD -- or any government agency -- when it asserts that public clouds are always bad and government clouds must always be private. However, forcing CIOs to use public clouds is an inappropropriate one-size-fits-all approach to technology, and that never works. Government CIOs should be able to select the right technology for the job, whether private or public clouds -- or even no clouds.

Unfortunately, too many government CIOs weren't open to public clouds and always chose private clouds. That move to one extreme resulted in Congress pushing them hard the other way. The danger is replacing one lopsided approach with another.

Yes, government agencies need to understand that moving to cloud computing does not mean just building your own clouds, which only adds costs and data center space. Though we need to push the government to more use of public cloud computing services, this act means seems to be punishing agencies for their past mistakes. The public cloud should be an option, but not the only one.

I suspect that the idea behind the act's strong-arm approach is that unless Congress forces the hands of the government CIOs by controlling their money, the federal government won't get any benefit from cloud computing. I believe that fear to be valid. But a better way to address it would've been to appoint a knowledgeable group of people (I volunteer) to direct the government to the right technology, including the right way to use public, private, and hybrid clouds. One or the other is almost never the right choice.

If we don't take the politics and FUD out of this, we're all going to lose.

This article, "The Defense Department's forced march to cloud computing," originally appeared at Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.