The Great Migration And Its Challenges: Federal Data Storage In The Cloud

IT pros from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FBI spoke openly about their concerns moving to the cloud, despite strides they’ve already made in that direction.

Chief Technology Officer for the National Agricultural Statistics Service with the USDA Michael Valivullah, along with Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Jeremy Wiltz, said at the MeriTalk 2014 Cloud Computing Brainstorm in Washington, D.C. they look forward to making the migration for data storage, though they’re worried about releasing the most sensitive information

Valivullah said the USDA has 3.2 million customers. It works to help them analyze farming data and boost the national industry, something of the utmost importance as the country’s population grows and there are ’more mouths to feed,’ he said. He added they’re the first federal organization to bring on iPads with an approximate $5 million-a-year cost savings for their workers in the field.

[Related: Microsoft Scores with USDA IN Cloud Computing Conflict with Google]

But there are still challenges with the shift to cloud. He said there is a ’last-mile problem’ his statisticians run into which hurts cost savings. The ’last mile’ issue refers to the problem that comes when the end link between a user and connectivity is disproportionately expensive to solve.

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’The applications need to be updated to accommodate that kind of architecture,’ he said.

Wiltz said the FBI is concentrating on private clouds to prevent any conflict of interest when it comes to controlling and protecting their data for ongoing investigations.

’I’m not saying we’re doing this -- we’re not indicting anyone. But if we later put Microsoft under investigation, how would it look to the public that we’re keeping our stuff on their equipment? Right?’ he asked the room. ’Could you trust that they haven’t done anything with the data to protect themselves during the criminal proceedings? That’s a big challenge for us.’

Wiltz added he’s also wary of providers who claim their cloud software is secure. He said cloud solutions could become Trojan horses for the FBI where, for example, China develops software and then the U.S. entity implements it and then the government is vulnerable to international espionage.

Rohan Oswal, federal solutions manager of the cloud services provider Acquia, said he felt Wiltz had some ’valid points’ about security issues. Acquia has a primary focus on Drupal software and works on government contracts. Oswal said he is aware of the last-mile problems the USDA chief officer addressed, too.

’It’s the last mile of network going through their firewalls and internal networks,’ he said. ’That’s where we’re seeing performance really slowing down.’

I think that government agencies need to start looking at what is their multi-cloud strategy right now,’ he added. ’Because obviously there’s not one cloud to fit all.’

NEXT: Privacy Concerns Remain Paramount For Agencies Going To Cloud

Founder of MeriTalk Steve O’Keeffe said while he understood Wiltz’s point about the potential conflict of interest with major companies, he said the global climate may change over time.

’It’s difficult to say you can’t use a cloud servicer provider because they might be indicted,’ he said. ’You’ve got to employ someone to clean the bathrooms -- what if they’re indicted?’

Both Valivullah and Wiltz said privacy of their information continues to be a concern. They each cited jail time and stiff penalties for the unlawful release of information as a concern for moving forward with full cloud implementation.

Wiltz said he is looking for an opportunity to speak openly with vendors and solution providers about issues in general, stating regulations and the bidding process prevents businesses and the government from solving problems together.

’We’re very resistant because of our procurement rules and the fact we can go to prison personally …,’ he said. ’I’m not sure the (request for information) process works the way I’d like it to work. It’s a back and forth, not a ’sit-down and have a conversation’ to talk about where we could go.’

Both agency representatives said they see mobile as a growing trend moving forward. Valivullah said at his level, the USDA is exploring sensors and what applications can be developed to modernize farming. Sensors could be used to test the soil and then unmanned vehicles could be flown in to water certain parts of the crop in need, he said.

’We’ve been doing this since (the early 1800s),’ he said. ’We’ve been in this business for a long time, looking for cutting-edge technology -- hoping for better data and publishing reports. You can tell, I’m really excited.’