Avoiding Turbulence in the Cloud
Cloud for government is about the right mix of public and private
Aug. 10, 2012 09:45 AM
According to a recent survey by the Ponemon Institute, many agencies still have significant reservations about moving essential information and functions to the public cloud. According to the poll, nearly half of respondents indicated that worries about security were the primary factor keeping them from fully migrating to the cloud.
What's interesting is that a large percentage of those surveyed indicated they weren't very confident about cloud-related cost savings. Some 73 percent of IT respondents were either unsure or not confident that they had an understanding of the long-term impact of moving to an external cloud. Even more troubling was that, of those that did think they knew, roughly three-fourths of IT respondents thought public cloud would have no, or a negative, impact on cost. So it's not just security, but the basic cost benefits of external cloud that is in doubt.
This fear of the cost of external clouds could be well-founded. Public cloud offerings are not technologically different than a modern virtualized data center paid for "as a service." Amazon,Google and others offer the same thing that an internal modern virtualized data center could offer, but just as OPEX (operating costs) instead of CAPEX (capital costs). The theory is that theeconomies of scale of those public cloud companies will drive down costs that can be passed onto customers.
That theory could have a fatal flaw for larger agencies that already get significant economies of scale. This figure represents a cost per user that goes down as the amount of users goes up.
So the cost per user is high when the user count is low, but is driven down as the user count grows and the economies of scale kick in. However, as many who are experienced in architecting solutions will tell you, the cost curve doesn't go down dramatically forever. At some point, it levels off. With the widespread usage of virtualization, the place that it levels off is definitely lower and provides more savings than in the past. The user count ‘dot' in that figure is now in the thousands, offering savings for agencies with only hundreds of users. However,the ‘dot' is not in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands where joining a public cloud would make a huge difference for larger agencies.
If that is true, then a private cloud offers a similar total cost of ownership as public clouds without introducing new security, network and information assurance problems.
Searching for the right place to take advantage
One of the most obvious uses of a public cloud is a temporary holding place for data until a permanent solution is available. If an agency is building a new data center and cannot fit in itsexisting one while waiting for completion, they can rent IT space from a public cloud service to hold them over. That is essentially what a public cloud is, IT renting.
Another way agencies can move to using a public cloud offering is for secondary copies of the data. Disaster recovery and backup copies offsite can be relatively expensive to manage and host. This is where public cloud offerings could shine. In fact, it's probably the best reason for agencies to use public clouds. The systems agencies would use to house secondary copies willbe underutilized unless there is a failure at the primary site. That would allow for very dense virtualization and consolidation by the public cloud provider. The only danger would be ifmultiple agencies were to fail at once, overburdening the cloud provider.
Agencies can maintain network and information assurance needs on primary data, but this will not solve the security concerns of secondary data kept at the public cloud provider. There are public cloud providers that do offer hefty security compliance and guarantees, but not all do yet.Until more cloud providers offer more security guarantees, public cloud computing could remain more of a conversation, than a revolution, in IT.
What's sure though is that the current 37-percent level of server virtualization in the federal government is a great place to start saving money. Just bringing that to around 60 percent with private clouds could save up to $23 billion in IT spend for cash-strapped agencies. And that's not even taking into account desktop virtualization in private clouds that could save agencies even more.
Unfortunately, the recent survey by MeriTalk found less than half of federal IT managers were confident in the funding for further virtualization efforts. This situation might force agencies into making rash decisions for short-term savings, like moving production data into a public cloud for first-year savings without a thorough understanding of the issues and challenges.
Instead, agencies need to only move select IT functions to a public cloud by making calculated, well-informed decisions with a long-term view. If IT organizations in government take the time to think critically about public cloud, it could reap major benefits while avoiding some dangerous pitfalls. There's a mix of public and private cloud out there that's right for each agency. In time, and with some education, government will strike that balance.
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