SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- While the concept of cloud computing in government agencies still may seem new, radical or even scary, these new deployment options continue to suffer from misperceptions and lingering questions.

With hopes of quashing fallacies, simplifying the nuts-and-bolts details and normalizing the concept of cloud computing, two experts led a discussion on the topic Wednesday, May 13, at the Government Technology Conference West to help those in the public sector decide if going to the cloud is worth the investment.

Carolyn Lawson, deputy director of the California Office of Technology Services, Technology Services Governance Division, told conference attendees that going to the cloud should be an informed decision and one not made based on cloud computing's relative novelty.

"Look at how it impacts data and systems," she said, adding that agencies should consider costs and value points.

Although more government agencies are using cloud services because of the potential cost savings and the promise of eliminating idle server capacity, there are several factors to keep in mind:

  • "Business requirements will dictate what makes sense as far as SaaS [software as a service]," said Dave Rogers, state and local government strategic adviser for Microsoft, who served as the vendor expert on the panel discussion. Find a balance between costs, service delivery and disaster recovery, he said. "Don't get in your head that this is all or nothing," Lawson said. "It's the best of both worlds; you want to find the balance."
  • An agency's individual needs should be considered when weighing a cloud computing adoption.
  • Find out where your data will be stored -- in the continental U.S. or offshore? "When parsing data, you have to ensure you know where that data is and its security," Rogers said. 
  • Research the vendor's entrance and exit paths. Understand what steps will be taken to go to the cloud, and what steps will be taken if your agency decides to go with a different vendor or revert back to hosting internally. "If the data is mission-critical and the data is parsed out, it can be harder to go to a new cloud provider," Lawson said. 
  • Ask the vendor what it will be doing as far as integration in the future. 
  • Keep an open mind. This is crucial, Lawson said, as an agency should consider the whole picture and focus on what it's required to deliver. 
  • Force the vendor to help solve problems. If a network will be overburdened, costs will be incurred, Rogers said. It's the vendor's job to help resolve such issues. 
  • Keep in mind that user adoption is everything and that communication is key. Technology isn't the answer, as the end-users define an agency's success, Rogers said. Also, some people are more adaptable than others, and communication should focus on the function and what it's changing. "Generation and comfort level make the difference in how you have to communicate," Lawson said. 
  • Sell the concept. Staff must be sold on the idea of switching to the cloud, Lawson said, and must be told there will be glitches and that outsiders will notice. "People are more tolerant of data on a server and much less tolerant if [it's] in the cloud," she said. 
  • Before doing anything, envision a perfect implementation and how the agency's press release on its cloud implementation will read. "What would the press release look like, then how do we get there?" Lawson said.

Above all, do research and take time choosing a vendor. "If you know who you're working with and have a trust level, that makes all the difference," Lawson said. "We're very young at this, but I'm very hopeful of where this is going."

 

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer