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Cloud First Policy -- What Does It Really Mean?

The Federal Government has issued a cloud first policy as a part of the Office of Management and Budget s 25-point plan to reform federal information technology management. What does it mean for state and local governments?

The federal government has issued a "cloud first" policy as a part of the Office of Management and Budget's 25-point plan to reform federal information technology management. The policy was described by federal CIO Vivek Kundra during a December 9, 2010 presentation. This cloud first policy was presented as an important aspect of government reform efforts in order to achieve operational efficiencies by adopting "light" technology and shared services.

The potential benefits from implementing cloud computing are huge. One slide near the ends of the Mr. Kundra's presentation offered this bullet on how reforms will change the status quo: "Utilizing 'Cloud First' approach, provision solutions on demand at up to 50% lower per unit cost."

Federal agencies are already getting onboard, and the General Service Administration (GSA) has announced plans to move to a web-based email system, similar to Google's Gmail. According to the Washington Post

"The GSA is the first federal agency to make the Internet switch, and its decision follows the Office of Management and Budget's declaration last month that the government is now operating under a ‘cloud-first’ policy, meaning agencies must give priority to Web-based applications and services. ...

The Obama administration has said that cloud computing will allow more people to share a common infrastructure, cutting technology and support costs. But some technologists have warned that Web-based software may not be as secure as systems built for a dedicated purpose. And the programs often depend on stable network connections." 

The cloud first policy itself has several specific mandates in section 3.2. "Each Agency CIO will be required to identify three 'must move' services and create a project plan for migrating each of them to cloud solutions and retiring the associated legacy systems. Of the three, at least one of the services must fully migrate to a cloud solution within 12 months and the remaining two within 18 months."

Moving forward, many implementation questions remain. How will the cloud computing contracts actually work across multiple agencies with different requirements? Will security protections be adequate? What parameters will be in place to prohibit offshore cloud facilities? Will the promised savings materialize? What flexibility will be included to allow state and local governments to take advantage of these new federal cloud offerings?

Still, these are the right actions overall for the federal government to take, in my opinion. A "cloud first" policy will shape the future for IT management in government. Many of these 25 federal reforms need to be adopted by state and local governments. So what should state and local technology leaders be doing now? What does a cloud first policy really mean outside the DC beltway? Quite a bit, I think. Here are three items to consider:

  • Cloud computing is the new normal for all of us. "Shared services" is here to stay. Learn more by reading and learning about what your federal, state and local counterparts are doing now.
  • Develop a cloud computing strategy for your government with meaningful deliverables and milestones. Figure out what can go into a "public cloud" and what needs to remain in your government's "private cloud." Or, more likely, will you implement a “hybrid cloud.” Federal Computer Week suggests that agencies should start with cloud-based email
  • Build partnerships. We need help from the private sector companies, other governments and associations like NASCIO
What are your thoughts regarding the announced "cloud first" policy? What does it mean for your government?

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.