Cloud on the Rise: Making Cloud Computing Work for Your Agency (Industry Perspective)

Through its three primary services, cloud computing can deliver enormous value-add to government agencies.

by Jeff Shaw / January 24, 2017
Image via Shutterstock

In a world of fast-advancing technology, cloud computing is quickly becoming one of government’s most compelling IT options.

The cloud is ideal for much of government’s work. It can save money for agencies through economies of scale and by maximizing efficient use of computing resources, and it can help agencies take advantage of advancing technologies, such as language recognition software.

Through its three primary services — Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) — cloud computing can deliver enormous value-add to government agencies. Each of the three services, outlined below, provides distinct capabilities.

IaaS: Infrastructure Support

IaaS — “core” cloud services that agencies can use to build and support their own technology services — gives an agency access to servers, storage and other infrastructure not physically sited at the agency’s location. With IaaS, agencies can store, access, monitor and manage their applications in offsite data centers.

IaaS gives an agency the ability to remotely manage:

  • computing, running its applications on the cloud provider’s servers/virtual machines;
  • storing application data; and
  • networking through capabilities that connect the compute and storage capabilities and provide security protections (for example, firewalls).

Two key differences between cloud IaaS and traditional on-premise technology are:

  • The self-service nature of cloud IaaS. That is, agencies employ user interfaces to request, provision and manage their cloud applications, as opposed to using their own physical data centers.
  • Operating expense versus capital costs. As an ongoing operating expense (e.g., billed per minute), a cloud IaaS approach may reduce an agency’s need to purchase and maintain an extensive computing hardware inventory.

PaaS: Full Platform Support

PaaS gives an agency a full platform on which they can build and support the development, monitoring, customization and ongoing operations of their applications in the cloud. PaaS adds a “layer” on top of IaaS, providing additional capabilities that all applications need, including: 

  • “Bundled” infrastructure that prevents an agency from having to manage individual IaaS infrastructure components.
  • Cross-platform support, which offers the ability to design, develop and test applications on a single platform, eliminating the need to customize the code to run on different platforms.
  • Continuous integration/continuous deployment, giving agencies the ability to deploy code to production through automated tools without human intervention.
  • Data sync and notifications for mobile devices.

PaaS can make development, testing and deployment of applications easy, quick and cost-effective. Some PaaS platforms also enable interoperability between cloud providers — that is, the platform permits the agency to manage cloud applications in multiple public clouds. This one consistent, PaaS-enabled interface allows movement between cloud providers so an agency isn’t locked in with a single vendor.

SaaS: Web Delivery of Applications

SaaS delivers computer applications, such as email, video chat, customer relationship management (CRM) or case management, on demand via the Internet. The entire software capability is provided by a third-party SaaS company, using an operational expense model (cost-per-transaction, cost-per-seat or cost-per-time period, for example). This approach can reduce an agency’s operational and capital expenses, and enhance innovation. It frees internal IT professionals from the time required to install and maintain the agency’s software, thus allowing them to focus on forward-looking projects.

SaaS also:

  • Dramatically cuts the time it takes to deploy new applications, sometimes by weeks or even months.
  • Removes the agency’s responsibility for managing software updates, patches and enhancements, all of which are included with SaaS.
  • Provides budget flexibility. Agencies can add or discontinue user “seats” to manage computing costs. 

Agencies that may not want to go “all in” on the cloud can take a look at customized “XaaS,” or Anything as a Service. Agencies might be surprised to learn that they often can contract for selective cloud services that meet their specific needs. For example, they might choose:

  • Data Warehouse as a Service (DWaaS), in which an agency can simply and cost-effectively analyze petabyte-scale data utilizing a data warehouse in the cloud.
  • Monitoring as a Service (MaaS), which gives an agency the ability to monitor the state and health of applications, networks, systems, etc., delivered through a cloud model.

More and more, the public cloud will become part of how government delivers services to its users. Agencies of all sizes can take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing, and they don’t have to apply massive budgets or teams to do it. Instead, they can start small, perhaps trying out just one key service in the beginning to gain cloud knowledge and experience. Over the longer term, agencies then can expand other services into the cloud to build efficiency and value and — most importantly — better serve constituents.

Jeff Shaw is vice president of IT for NIC Inc. (NASDAQ: EGOV), a provider of digital government and secure payment processing solutions for more than 4,300 local, state and federal agencies across the United States. You may reach him at jshaw@egov.com.