Feds Shy Away From Public Cloud, Call For Security

Federal, state and local governments, along with higher education, are keeping their distance from the public cloud model, instead favoring private and hybrid cloud computing environments, an extensive Quest Software Public Sector survey conducted by Norwich University has revealed.

The study, Pulse on Public Sector Virtualization and Cloud Computing Study, polled 646 respondents -- 307 federal government, 128 state and local government and 211 in higher education -- between March and May 2011.

Quest Software Public Sector found that just 6.9 percent of federal IT officials are on board with a public cloud model as a long-term viable option, while more than 68 percent support private or hybrid clouds and said they will best meet their organization needs in five years or more.

The survey results come as the federal government stumps for a cloud-first IT plan where cloud computing will be the first consideration for technology projects in order to cut costs and boost efficiency.

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The majority of federal respondents, more than 90 percent, also said they don't have or aren't aware if they have a cloud computing exit strategy, meaning if they are uncertain if they can move their data or change cloud providers.

Not surprising, cost savings remained a major incentive for federal agencies to move to the cloud, with 28 percent of federal respondents citing costs as a driver. More than 21 percent said that cloud computing will also provide them with better mission support. Meanwhile, according to federal respondents, lack of in-house expertise is a bigger barrier to private cloud adoption than upfront costs.

There is also still an air of confusion surrounding cloud computing, the Quest Software Public Sector study revealed, with 64.7 percent of federal participants saying there is uncertainty within their organizations about the distinction between cloud computing and virtualization.

Federal respondents also called for tighter security standards and regulations in the cloud. More than 56 percent noted that FISMA and FedRAMP need to be supplemented with additional cloud security standards and regulations, best practices and guidelines. And the majority, 62.2 percent, of federal IT professionals said Federal CIO Vivek Kundra's initiative to eliminate at least 800 government data centers by 2015 is somewhat feasible to very feasible.

State and local governments painted a similar picture to their federal contemporaries. Among state and local respondents, more than 60 percent prefer a hybrid or private cloud model over a public model, which 9.4 percent said was preferable, over the long-term. The biggest barrier to private cloud adoption, according to nearly 19 percent of respondents, was the upfront costs of implementation. Additionally, 36.2 percent of state and local government agencies want to see more federal cloud mandates and guidelines.

When it comes to virtualization, more than 71 percent of state and local government respondents said virtualization has made it easier to manage their environments, and 20 percent said that their organization has already bought and fully implemented virtualization technologies, twice the percentage of federal agencies that have virtualized.

And in higher education, the cloud computing picture becomes more clear, with 60.7 percent responding that a national cloud for higher education created by the federal government would be a benefit to colleges and universities, as more than 60 percent believe that cloud computing will drive intra-institutional collaboration. Nearly 29 percent of higher education respondents said the momentum toward cloud computing is driven by the need for better access to and integration of shared resources, and 27 percent said that distance learning is a top priority in 2011 and 2012.

And while nearly 63 percent of higher education respondents said they are optimistic about cloud computing, 37 percent said their 2011 and 2012 IT budgets will remain flat.