Are the Clouds Getting Clearer?

Will federal rules pave the way for states and localities to migrate to the cloud?

by / February 23, 2012

It probably won’t surprise anyone that industry analysts predict stronger growth for cloud computing this year. IDC, the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, says the combination of mobile computing, cloud services and social networking will account for 80 percent of all IT spending between now and 2020. In addition, the firm expects that 80 percent of new commercial enterprise apps will be deployed on cloud platforms this year.

As the technology industry continues its march toward the cloud, governments are moving that way too. States like Minnesota, Florida and Wyoming have deployed cloud-based email and collaboration suites. So have cities like Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Orlando, Fla. And of course, the federal government is making an aggressive push toward the cloud via the federal CIO’s IT reform agenda, which includes a “cloud first” policy for new system deployments.

But, as with any new technology model, moving to the cloud comes with some growing pains — and some of the most acute discomfort has been triggered by migrating public safety users onto cloud-based platforms. Privately, many police department CIOs say they have little interest in moving law enforcement data into the cloud, and they grumble that commercial cloud vendors haven’t done enough to meet specialized public safety requirements. On the other hand, cloud vendors complain they’re sometimes at the mercy of state, local and federal regulations that haven’t kept pace with changing technology.

This month, we try to provide some insight and advice on navigating this terrain. Associate Editor Matt Williams has followed the issue for several years, and his feature looks at a series of reasons why moving public safety personnel to cloud-based email systems hasn’t been easy for many jurisdictions.

Given that public safety employees make up a huge chunk of the state and local government work force, it’s a critical issue for public CIOs to get their arms around as they develop and implement cloud strategies. We hope our story offers some food for thought as you make these decisions.

A related article looks at a program designed to streamline the cloud transition for federal government agencies. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (better known as FedRAMP) is expected to launch this year and be fully operational by 2013. The program will provide a single independent security certification for cloud-based products that can be accepted by all federal agencies. Once functional, FedRAMP will relieve agencies from conducting their own security review of cloud solutions — and cloud vendors won’t need to contend with multiple security assessments.

Ultimately the program also may benefit states and localities that purchase technology solutions through the federal GSA schedule, since they could access FedRAMP-approved services through that purchasing system. Even if state and local governments decide not to directly accept FedRAMP, the assessments may provide a useful model for their own security certifications.

Along with becoming even more popular, let’s hope 2012 is the year that moving to the cloud also gets easier.


Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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