Cloud Computing in the Public Sector

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the CIO Council

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the CIO Council

If there was still any doubt about the real world use cases for cloud computing, the US Federal Government last week published a 38-page report  entitled “State of Public Sector Cloud Computing” (link to PDF at Attributed to the Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, it is stamped with the seal/logo of the CIO Council, which comprises the CIOs of some 28 federal government agencies.

The report details 30 case studies in public sector cloud computing (for both state and federal governments), covering IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS service models; using private, public, community, and hybrid cloud deployment models; with both on-premise and off-premise implementations.

Measurable Benefits from Key Case Studies

After perfunctorily reciting what it calls “the broadly recognized and adopted NIST Definition of Cloud Computing,” and using the opportunity to briefly push its own barrow on cloud standards (a subject I plan to blog about in more detail at another time), the report cites several projects with ‘soft’ outcomes – improved productivity, better efficiency, higher reliability – as well as several planned cloud projects that are yet to bear fruit.

However, most of the report is given over to demonstrating solid and measurable outcomes from over a dozen current cloud deployment case studies involving multiple state and federal government agencies, with cloud success stories such as:

  • The US Army is piloting a customized version of to update its 10 year old recruiting systems for Web 2.0, social media, mobile devices, marketing integration, real-time data interchange, and engagement tracking. At an annual cost of $54,000, this pilot compares to bids from traditional IT vendors ranging from $500K to over $1 million, and has already replaced five traditional recruiting centers.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is also using to support the implementation of Electronic Health Records systems. This new CRM system for working with participating healthcare providers was deployed in just 3 months, instead of the full year estimated for an internally delivered system.
  • The General Services Administration (GSA) moved to a Terremark Enterprise Cloud service, to take advantage of on-demand scalability for Web sites like As a result, GSA accelerated its site upgrade time from nine months to a maximum of one day, reduced monthly downtime from roughly two hours to near zero (99.9% availability), and reduced annual costs for by $1.7 million, from $2.35 million to $650,000, or 72%.
  • The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is using virtualization with a self-service portal to provide on-demand server space for development teams. With just an approved Government credit card, these end users can set up new environments (with DoD-compliant security guaranteed) in just 24 hours – down from three to six weeks – and at a “reasonable” cost.
  • “DISA estimates PaaS cloud savings between $200,000 and $500,000 per project.”
  • DISA also used cloud provider CollabNet to set up, a private PaaS cloud development environment with a heavy focus on collaboration and code sharing/reuse. DISA estimates this saves between $200,000 and $500,000 per project – not including the estimated $15 million in cost avoidance by utilizing an open source philosophy.
  • The Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBL), part of the Dept of Energy, is using Google Apps for 2,300 e-mail users, and planning to more than double that by August. LBL estimates they will save $1.5 million over five years “in hardware, software and labor costs from the deployments they have already made.”
  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used a Microsoft Azure development platform “to excite the public about Mars” with the website, This site has generated over 2,000 pieces of social media, inspired 200 traditional media stories, responded up 2.5 million API queries, gathered  40,000 votes in its ‘Town Hall’ polls, and attracted 5,000 registrations from individuals and teams.
  • The Federal Labor Relations Authority recently replaced its underperforming, decade-old case management system, switching to Intuit’s Quickbase system. As a result, it was able to go from requirements-definition to completed development in 10 months – a quarter of the original deployment time – and expects a TCO reduction of nearly $600,000 over five years.
  • “Moving to Amazon EC2 will drive cost savings of $750,000”
  • Less than a month ago, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board moved to a “fully scalable site” in the Amazon EC2 infrastructure cloud, delivering “added security” and “nearly 100 percent uptime.” The Board is projecting that this move will drive cost savings of $750,000 through FY2011 (4% of its $18 million budget) – while allowing it to reallocate more than $1 million worth of hardware and software.
  • The New Jersey Transit Authority also used (alongside some organizational change) to improve its customer service system. The new cloud-based processes allowed the same number of staff to handle 5 times the number of enquires (from 8354 in 2004 to 42,323 in 2006), reduced response time for enquiries by 35%, and improved productivity by 31%.
  • Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources replaced its aging video conferencing systems with Microsoft LiveMeeting as an alternative to server-based collaboration software. Since migration in 2009, this has saved an estimated $320,000, with ROI expected to grow from 270% for the first year to over 400% in future years.
  • The State of Utah uses several public cloud services (, Google Earth Pro, and Wikispaces), and has completed 70% of its private cloud project to move 1,800 physical servers in over 35 locations to a virtual platform of just 400 servers. The private cloud project alone is expected to the state save $4 million annually – over 2.5% of its $150m IT budget.
  • Facing a $400 million deficit, the City of Los Angeles has been transitioning to Google Apps cloud-based e-mail, with all employees to be cut over by June 30 this year. The City’s CTO estimates a direct savings of $5.5 million over 5 years, and a total ROI (including increased productivity) of $20-30m.
    “Colorado estimates annual savings of $8m, and up to $20m in expense avoidance”
  • The City of Orlando rolled out a similar Google Mail project for all 3,000 city employees in January this year. The City has realized a 65% reduction in e-mail costs, not including benefits from improved productivity, increased storage allocation (from 100MB to 25GB per user), improved security/malware detection, and enhanced mobile device support.
  • The State of Colorado is shifting to a hybrid cloud model, mixing private cloud (an existing data center leveraging server virtualization), a virtual private cloud (for additional pay-as-you-go scalability), and public cloud (Google Apps for e-mail and office productivity). Just by shifting 122 servers running Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and Novell GroupWise to the cloud, Colorado estimates annual savings of $8 million, and up to $20 million in expense avoidance over 3 years.

Set SMART Goals, But Be Pragmatic

Kundra does not shy away from clearly stating his ongoing cloud computing goals in this report. By 2011, all business cases for new federal IT investment must include cloud alternatives; by 2012, all enhancements to existing systems must do the same; by 2013, all IT investments, even on legacy systems, must be justified against a cloud alternative. These SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed) goals are important to overcome the all-too-frequent adoption of disruptive technologies almost as a fad, unrelated to business goals and without a clear and realistic timeline.

However, these case studies show an essential pragmatism about the public sector approach to cloud computing. Kundra and the CIO Council recognize (as I have previously published) that the cloud will not completely replace on-premise IT, stipulating:

“Federal agencies are to deploy cloud computing solutions to improve the delivery of IT services, where the cloud computing solution has demonstrable benefits versus the status quo.”

So while cloud must be increasingly evaluated, actual cloud adoption must be justified by “demonstrable benefits” that improve IT service delivery, not just reduce costs. As I have stated in EMA research and blogged about here, it is important for enterprises (public or private) to “look for opportunities, and do what makes sense” when it comes to cloud computing. This is reflected by thought-leaders like Gartner’s Thomas Bittman (@tombitt), who explains that for some organizations “a 70% private cloud is absolutely good enough.”

Cloud Lessons For Other CIOs?

These case studies have a lot of lessons to offer other business and IT leaders, both private and public sector, in everything from mid-sized businesses to the largest enterprises. They detail many clear and realistic case studies; provide insight into achieving both specific ROI and soft benefits; show how cloud can be applied to both business- and IT-oriented goals; and give ideas for how CIOs might address real problems with cloud alternatives.

Moreover, more than any set of self-published corporate case studies, this is incredibly significant, because, as the report points out:

“The United States Government is the world’s largest consumer of information technology, spending over $76 billion annually on more than 10,000 different systems.”

This level of influence from the world’s largest consumer of IT will drive a solid and relentless march to cloud computing, a juggernaut that will likely carry the rest of us along, whether we like it or not.

“These case studies really need to be taken with a grain of salt. Be informed … but be wary.”

However, it reads almost like promotional material from a cloud provider – which, in a way, it is – because it does not deal directly with any of the potential problems of cloud computing. It mentions security only very briefly, and then only how certain cloud implementations actually improve security (with no details). It does not give any details of how federal clouds have ensured compliance with regulations like the Federal Rules of Disclosure and DOD 5015, and industry requirements like PCI-DSS. It does not talk about if, or how, they overcame the endemic  problems of performance assurance and continuity in the cloud. Perhaps most ironically of all, it does not even mention how it overcame the tough political and departmental challenges that are cited by analysts as one of the top barriers to both virtualization and cloud adoption.

So for CIOs, this report really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Be informed and educated by these case studies; use them to be set pragmatic expectations and SMART goals; but be wary that as much as it says about the upside of cloud computing, it avoids saying just as much – if not more – about the potential for deleterious, or even disastrous, downsides.

2 comments for “Cloud Computing in the Public Sector

Comments are closed.