The feds may soon mandate cloud computing usage

New requirements from the OMB could make cloud computing a quick reality within the federal government

A story from December that was largely missed was the fact that the Office of Management and Budget, the president's budget and planning agency, is virtually mandating cloud computing for government agencies, as covered in this Channel Insider article:

According to various published reports, the OMB will mandate in the fiscal year 2011 (which starts in October 2010) that federal agencies not using cloud computing or making cloud computing part of new IT projects explain why. By fiscal year 2013, the policy will require agencies to provide details and road maps on their plans for adopting cloud-based technologies.

I am not sure why this was not a larger story; I view this as huge news. I suspect that most agencies will provide exceptions to this mandate, but the writing is on the wall that those in charge of the budget want to pay for more clouds and less hardware. Bravo, perhaps, is the word that comes to mind. But will it actually work?

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Most federal CIOs are good people with good visions for their organizations. They are willing to look at any type of technology that could improve their ability to provide supportive IT services. I suspect that cloud computing is indeed on their radar, but to put a deadline on the use of cloud, and do it with the threat of holding up their budget, could be perhaps the wrong message to send.

What they need is guidance around these requirements, in essence addressing the how and what, more so than the when. Perhaps this also means making additional budget available for mapping a path to the cloud and for the initial quick spike in costs as you move from on-premise to cloud-based systems.

That said, were I a government CIO right now, looking at these forthcoming requirements, I would take the following actions:

  • First, get a quick assessment completed around the potential value of cloud computing for your agency or organization. This should include a business case and a three- to five-year high-level plan.
  • Second, consider any exceptions you may have, and document them. Some systems are not good candidate for the cloud due to legal issues, such as personal health-related data.
  • Third, look at this as an architectural improvement project, not just a quick shift from the local data center to the cloud. If you improve your processes, data management, and architectural efficiencies along with the use of cloud, the end result will be all the better.

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