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U.S. Feds: Ultimate Cloud Computing Cheerleader

US Government Seal

US Government Seal

Were there ever a near-ideal case study demonstrating the merits of cloud computing, the United States government would provide exhibit 1A.

Since moving portions of the national data infrastructure to the cloud, federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra says the government has saved $3 billion in less than five months.

This and other IT streamlining initiatives continue accumulating savings according to Kundra, who made his comments April 12 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ panel on federal financial management.

Cloud computing is a keystone of his 25-point IT reform plan announced in December 2010. Kundra initiated a “cloud first” policy as a part of the plan. Federal technology spending is now costing taxpayers an estimated $80 billion annually. Kundra has stated approximately $20 billion in technology spending could be moved to the cloud.

“The culture in government historically has been that the government must build its own infrastructure; it must own the software development,” Kundra stated in his testimony. “One of the reasons we’re shifting to the cloud-first policy, essentially, is to move away from this philosophy of asset ownership to service provisioning.”

Moving the General Services Administration (GSA) alone should save taxpayers an estimated $1.7 billion annually in computing costs, according to testimony from GSA associate administrator David McClure in that same hearing. He says since moving to the cloud, the agency is more nimble and responsive.

The agency’s website, for example, can be updated in hours instead of months, which also enables staff to work on tasks other than site maintenance. The GSA and United States Department of Agriculture are saving an additional $40 million by shifting those agencies’ e-mail services to the cloud.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which moved to a cloud-based application to manage its spending, cut its costs by 60 percent. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board have saved $750,000 by moving to Amazon Web Services’ cloud-computing infrastructure; a move started in May 2010.

Another part of the IT reform plan charged federal agencies with identifying three systems they must move to the cloud. Seventy-five computer systems can be moved to privately-owned data clouds, resulting in even more savings on infrastructure and maintenance, Kundra said. Other IT workflow efficiencies are creating even more savings.

The feds will realize another reduction in IT spending when 100 data centers nationwide are closed this year. These data centers have reportedly been made obsolete by the move to the cloud. The government has an ultimate goal of shuttering 800 data centers by 2015.

Despite this progress, a recent survey of federal IT workers and private businesses about the merits of the 25-point-plan found that the cloud-first aspect ranked the lowest among the various points. The survey was conducted by MeriTalk, which is a privately-owned government IT social network.

In his testimony before the Senate subcommittee, Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, explained that “the evolutionary, nurturing, and easy to understand points score best” among those polled. “The most revolutionary initiative – Cloud First – rated lowest,” O’Keeffe continued. “Data center consolidation hit roughly in the middle of the pack. …

I would note that cloud and data center consolidation are the brains and stomach of this 25 Point Plan. Considering options for simplification and prioritization, OMB might want to focus hardest on these programs – they offer the highest [return on investment for the government.”

Linda Dailey Paulson is a science and tech journalist with a passion for cloud computing and b2b integration.