U.S. Government To Take 'Cloud-First' Approach To IT

The federal government has been one of the most vocal entities about the power of cloud computing, and now the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said that it will require a "cloud-first" approach to IT as part of the 2012 budget process.

"[W]e were tasked with developing a new strategy to fundamentally change how the federal government purchases and uses IT," Jeffrey Zients, chief performance officer and deputy director for management at the OMB, wrote in a blog post on federal IT reform.

Part of that reform will include a cloud-first policy that will open the door for adoption of light technologies and shared solutions and lead to the consolidation of federal data centers, Zients said.

Speaking at the Northern Virginia Technology Council in Vienna, Va., earlier this week Zients said the cloud-first focus will help the government curb IT spending while taking advantage of new technologies. The speech was made available online by Federal News Radio.

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"What this means is that going forward, when evaluating options for new IT deployments, OMB will require that agencies default to cloud-based solutions whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists," he said.

To facilitate the shift to cloud computing, Zients said the OMB will stand up secure government-wide cloud computing platforms that will help agencies adopt cloud solutions for systems like infrastructure, e-mail and productivity suites.

And come March, the OBM will unveil targets and agency implementation plans for its pending data center consolidation initiative, which Zients called "a terrain ripe for shared services and common solutions" in his speech.

The data center consolidation effort comes after an eight-month internal probe found that the government currently maintains more than 2,000 data centers, Zients said. The consolidation project, he said, will save billions of dollars, boost security, improve performance and reduce energy consumption.

"We're putting a stake in the ground that we're going to reduce the number of data centers by at least 40 percent by 2015," he said.

Zients' and OMB's strong focus on cloud computing come as the federal government continues to pursue and investigate cloud computing. The Obama administration has made it clear that cloud computing is in its sights, but wants more knowledge, security and standardization in the cloud before it goes full steam ahead.

In May, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said that for the cloud to truly take hold the feds must develop standards to avoid inefficiencies and security holes.

"What's important today is the [development of standards] in the area of security, interoperability and data portability" to ensure information is protected; clouds and the computer applications they support can work together; and content can be moved within and among different clouds without jeopardizing access to or integrity of the data, Kundra said.

And in November, government agencies laid out some security guidelines around cloud computing as part of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

Kundra has planned an open meeting for December 9 that will further discuss federal cloud computing plans and IT reform.