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A Public Manager’s Guide to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing—delivering infrastructure, services, and software on demand via the network—offers attractive advantages to the public sector. For example, it has the potential to reduce information and communications technology (ICT) costs by virtualizing capital assets like disk storage and processing cycles into a readily available, affordable operating expense.

One of the most significant cloud computing opportunities for the public sector is the ability to share ICT resources among multiple agencies. While governments have tried hard to create frameworks geared toward shared services, these have not always been successful. Cloud computing offers an easier and less burdensome route to more efficient and effective public sector information management.

Of course, cloud computing is not without its challenges:

  • A service provider residing outside of a government’s legal or territorial jurisdiction may put access or security at risk.
  • Open standards and interoperability may not be guaranteed, leading to the risk of vendor lock-in.
  • Data privacy is a concern when using public clouds. This can be addressed by the development of private clouds.
  • Business continuity will continue to be a concern. Cloud computing, however, may also mitigate this risk, as cloud vendors are likely to use more robust and better-maintained computing platforms that provide more redundancy and are less likely to fail.

Public managers’ interest in cloud computing is (or should be) essentially the same as for any other computing technology or architecture. At its simplest, cloud computing should be evaluated for its ability to enable government organizations to conduct business efficiently and effectively. At the multi-agency or all-of-government level, it should also be examined for its ability to enable achievement of e-government objectives and support increased public sector performance.

It is important for public managers to gain a solid overview of how cloud computing is evolving, and the trends in its adoption. In the near term, the Cisco® Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) expects rapid growth in third-party “public” clouds offering many different application, computing, and storage services. While public sector organizations may choose to use these services—especially, we suspect, for standard business applications such as email or document creation—we think it is more likely they will elect to create their own private clouds, either alone or in partnership with other agencies.

Public sector ICT managers preparing for adoption of cloud computing should take these critical steps:

  • Agencies should deploy or pilot a private cloud framework as a step to understanding the operational impacts of cloud while getting first hand visibility of the benefits.
  • Identify all potential opportunities for switching from existing computing arrangements to cloud services.
  • Assure that in-house infrastructure complements cloud-based services. Virtualization will be a key element of a compatible infrastructure.
  • Develop a cost/benefit and risk-evaluation framework to support decisions about where, when, and how cloud services can be adopted.
  • Develop a roadmap for optimizing the current ICT environment for adoption of public and/or private cloud services.
  • Identify which data cannot be held in public cloud computing environments for legal and/or risk-mitigation reasons.
  • Identify and secure in-house competencies required to manage effective adoption of cloud services.
  • Designate a cross-functional team to monitor cloud computing services, providers, and standards, and to determine if they affect the roadmap.
  • Evaluate technical challenges that must be addressed when moving any current information or applications into a cloud environment. Experiment with and pilot various services—both internal and external—to identify where issues will arise.
  • Ensure that the networking environment is ready for cloud computing.

Cisco IBSG views cloud computing as a natural evolution of the Internet. Rather than regarding networks as mere plumbing, it is vital for public managers to understand them as the fabric “within” the cloud, and as the connection between the cloud and its users.

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