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What Obama Did for Tech: Cloud by Default

Obama's explicit cloud-first policy for federal agencies directed them to consider cloud options for new projects and migrate one existing system per year to a hosted environment.

Editor's note: This story is part of a six-part series on how Obama has, over the last eight years, elevated the profile of IT in the public sector. He taught government how to ride the technology bicycle, so to speak. A future president who neglects technology won’t be able to make it forget the skills taught through the influence of Silicon Valley and startup culture, said Aneesh Chopra, the nation’s first chief technology officer.

In late 2010, then-CIO Vivek Kundra unveiled a 25-point plan to reform federal IT that contained several major policy shifts aimed at modernizing infrastructure and streamlining assets and major system deployments. One of the plan’s most notable elements was an explicit cloud-first policy for federal agencies that directed them to consider cloud options for new projects and migrate one existing system per year to a hosted environment.

The plan was not without its critics, however. In 2011, Department of Homeland Security officials expressed concerns over the security of cloud technology — concerns that have dogged cloud conversations since its inception. The designation of secure access guidelines through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), launched in 2012, had the potential to alleviate many of those concerns. FedRAMP was designed as a single-point vetting system for technology vendors working with the federal government. In subsequent years, major tech players have worked to achieve FedRAMP clearance — a step that greatly streamlines the vetting process for other governments interested in the cloud.

As the cloud security outlook continued to improve, agencies began to make the move, including NASA, the Department of the Interior, and the National Archives and Records Administration. The cloud-first mentality has since trickled down to lower levels of government, and federal leadership can rightly take some of the credit. Many states have embraced the cloud-first approach to IT infrastructure: California issued an internal memo directing agencies to leverage the state-owned cloud for all “reportable and non-reportable” projects before pursuing alternative options. Utah, Michigan, Hawaii and Arizona have also made their cloud intentions known.

Tales of governments moving from on-premise email solutions to cloud options from Microsoft or Google have since become commonplace, and recent surveys indicate their cloud ambitions are more far-reaching. 2015 surveys from the Center for Digital Government (owned by Public CIO’s parent company, e.Republic) revealed that more than half of city and county IT leaders eventually see more than 50 percent of their systems in the cloud. Given all the momentum around cloud technologies, it is unlikely that a change in the presidential administration would have much of an impact in this arena.