True: Cloud computing has not yet come on like gangbusters in the federal government. More like footsteps of a steady series of app-by-app deals. But the cloud computing model as a federal service is still maturing, as is the government’s ability to craft the business cases and service level agreements it needs for cloud computing.
It’s a mistake to conclude, from the past three years or so, that cloud is passé. The buzz has to move to the next fascination before procurements actually start to ramp. Feds often talk and dabble a few years before moving markets.
Some signs can certainly present a confusing message. Recently, for example, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) issued a request for proposals to lower the ceiling on what had been a $450 million (over four years) commercial-style cloud brokering deal. DISA concluded that likely demand would come in lower than it originally expected.
Don't interpret that as lack of ardor on the part of the Defense Department for the cloud model. It simply means DOD agencies have many choices for where to go for cloud hosting, and what to host in it. For example, Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen bluntly declared this month that the department would check all of the options out there before committing to DISA as a cloud host. Civilian agencies, too, will want to maintain relationships with multiple cloud service providers (CSP).
So, current market numbers notwithstanding, I think cloud will not only grow, but also have growing implications for many product suppliers to the federal government beyond the CSPs themselves.
What will drive cloud growth? Fundamentally, the changing economics of computing. When an agency can see an order of magnitude cut in cost with instantly responsive service, it will switch to avoid continued investment in the high costs of operating and optimizing legacy infrastructure. Even if switching hosting from a government-owned and -operated data center isn’t initially cheaper, it at least brings more predictable costs that will drop over time as IT requirements become more standards-based and hence, more commoditized.
Despite the entreaties of this and the previous administration’s tech chiefs, federal spending on infrastructure and commodity applications persists as the largest share of the IT spend. That’s why they’ve been pushing cloud for a while, and shared services even longer.