Editor’s Note: Former Massachusetts deputy state CIO Bethann Pepoli is currently the CTO of EMC Corp.

Cloud computing has captured the attention of government agencies around the globe because of its potential benefits — from lowering IT-associated costs, to increasing flexibility and simplifying IT management. In the U.S., support is coming from the top. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has been an active promoter of cloud technology at the federal, state and local levels due to benefits such as availability, elastic provisioning, and the cloud’s ability to scale up and down as IT demands fluctuate.

Some public- and private-sector organizations are considering the adoption of one type of cloud computing, called the “private cloud.” The private cloud is a dramatically more efficient and effective model for delivering IT as a service and making technology easier and more cost-effective to install, use and manage — thus advancing business capabilities, saving money, and increasing IT efficiency and agility.

Cloud computing’s benefits are obvious, yet some organizations are hesitant to embark on the journey because they’re fearful of degrading security and losing control — particularly for public-sector agencies that are responsible for securing the personal information of citizens and employees. For those reasons, a private cloud is a more appropriate solution than a public cloud for government customers who want to eliminate security risks and maintain control over their infrastructure. If executed correctly, the private cloud can offer more security and control than the public cloud. The private cloud is kept internal to the organization, and therefore it is a more attractive option for most government agencies at the state, local and federal levels. Adoption of private cloud technologies is more prevalent today in state and local agencies than the federal government. However, the feds are increasingly advocating cloud-based technology initiatives because of the potential to alleviate budgetary pressures, increase resource utilization and deliver more transparency for open-government models.

The key to a successful journey to the private cloud is to not transition an entire IT environment into the cloud in one fell swoop, but rather to take a phased approach. This helps customers extend the lives of their existing IT assets rather than simply buying more infrastructure, which often isn’t the most green or economical way to go.

There are three key phases in the transition to a private cloud infrastructure: IT production, business production and IT as a service.

During the first phase, IT production, organizations begin to virtualize their servers, storage and production assets. Many organizations today are already in this first phase and have begun to realize the benefits of virtualization: lower IT costs, reduced footprint, simplified management, and increased efficiency among IT assets and personnel utilization. State agencies, such as the Florida Department of Transportation, have reduced their hardware and operating costs by as much as 50 percent and also reduced energy costs through the use of virtualization technologies in their data centers. In lean times, improving productivity while decreasing energy costs is hugely beneficial to public organizations. Additionally many agencies are considering desktop virtualization as a way to enhance management and flexibility and improve security controls, while increasing worker productivity and driving further cost improvements.

In the second stage, business production, organizations begin to virtualize their mission-critical applications. This phase is also characterized by the organization’s ability to share pools of IT resources. Once implemented, the business production phase can offer great improvements in quality of service, an ever-present imperative for public-sector organizations. By sharing pools of resources, response times to requests are reduced, thereby offering faster service to constituents. Pooling IT resources across agencies also offers on-demand scalability, availability and secure protection of data. These benefits are increasingly important to the public sector.

One city currently in the business production phase is Pittsburgh. Its mission-critical City Information Systems Department — which is responsible for supporting more than 3,000 users, including the mayor’s office, Finance Department, and police and emergency response — used virtualization to transform and streamline IT infrastructure. “We moved our first production system to a virtualized infrastructure without a hitch, and there was no going back,” said one network analyst.

IT as a service is the third and final stage in the journey to the private cloud. In this phase, 100 percent of the IT environment is virtualized, and an organization will fully experience cost transparency, data center automation and policy management. The primary business benefits in this last phase are greater IT agility and cost savings.

In the cloud, CIOs and IT managers can increase and decrease IT resources based on the needs of a specific department. For instance, to support the tax department, a CIO can provision more storage and application bandwidth to the state tax filing system on or around tax day on April 15. During the rest of the year, the system could be scaled back because user demand would be greatly reduced. By running on such a flexible system, public-sector organizations would be able to deliver citizen services more efficiently and cost-effectively while achieving greater transparency for policy and automation.

Cloud computing has clear business benefits that can be realized throughout this three-phase journey. Initiating this phased approach requires CIOs and management to drive change from the top down so that their organizations understand this new way of operating. Leadership is also imperative to ensure that the appropriate security and management measures have been taken and that citizens’ information is safe.

With a private cloud, governments can increase the value of their existing infrastructure, eliminate the need for additional capital expenditures, and improve employee productivity. Moving to the cloud will also drive energy efficiency, which means government can save money and the environment at the same time.

For public-sector entities that are worried about security and risk, the private cloud ensures greater control of an IT environment and improved security, especially compared to a public or hybrid cloud. State and federal agencies that haven’t yet begun the journey to the private cloud should seriously consider consolidating and virtualizing their IT environments. Only then will they begin taking advantage of the cost, environmental savings and business agility that comes with this new wave of IT change.

Bethann Pepoli  |  Former Massachusetts deputy state CIO and currently the CTO of EMC Corp.

Former Massachusetts deputy state CIO and currently the CTO of EMC Corp.