XChange Public Sector: Federal Budget Crunch Ups Cloud Momentum

That was one of the big takeaways during a federal systems integrator question and answer session Thursday with Unisys Group Vice President Federal Systems Gene Zapfel at the XChange Public Sector conference at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.

"The budget crunch is obviously making the federal government look for opportunities to save money," said Zapfel. "You can’t deny the cost savings. It is happening. If you are working in data center and your entire business is in that one data center, you better be looking at what the next generation data center is going to look like."

[Related: As Federal Budgets Shrink, State, Local IT Spending On The Rise ]

Federal government information technology spending is poised to drop 8 percent in 2013, the biggest plunge in the last dozen years, according to Gartner. And Gartner is predicting another 4 percent plunge in 2014.

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Federal agencies are committing to shuttering hundreds and hundreds of data centers, said Zapfel. "They have already started to close them down," he said.

Unisys itself has responded to an estimated 60 requests for information on delivering cloud services in the last two years, said Zapfel. "Before that, there were none," he said.

In some cases, the cloud computing services solution is coming in at just one-quarter the cost of a traditional data center solution, said Zapfel. Those savings are likely to be even greater down the road, he said. "As you move to the cloud you are going to see more and more cost savings continue to roll up," he said. "I think those cost savings are going to be better going forward."

Ironically, many federal agency CIOs refused to even consider cloud computing services as little as three years ago. Many of those CIOs at that time were determined to build, manage and run their own infrastructure. Today those same CIOs are embracing the cloud computing services model at a brisk pace.

The cloud computing revolution is a "generational" shift that will forever "change the structure of how IT is delivered to the government," said Zapfel.

"There are ways to very cost effectively be able to deliver the IT mission you need without having to own all the physical infrastructure that you used to have to own," said Zapfel. "So the CIOs job is really moving away from understanding the temperature in the data center toward managing the risks associated with delivering IT through multiple service providers."

Another factor in the cloud computing services momentum is the tremendous success that commercial organizations have had moving to cloud computing services, said Zapfel. Not all the problems have been solved, he said, but "security is good. Performance is good. Cost is great."