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The Future of Government IT

September 24, 2009 - 23 Comments

“Whether we like it or not, we live in interesting times!”

That quote from Robert Kennedy seems to resonate more than ever, especially in the world of government technology. For government IT teams, this is a time of significant opportunity coupled with enormous challenges. On the one hand, there’s a renewed sense that government technology and innovation will have a positive impact on the economy. Citizens have high expectations and are looking for new ways to engage and participate. At the same time, we will remember this period in our history as a time of fiscal crises and global uncertainty. Government IT decision-makers must work against a backdrop of economic turbulence and intense pressure to control costs.

Government CIOs in particular are being asked to maintain a delicate balancing act. For example, how do you balance the public’s demand for fast, transparent access to information versus the need for robust security and privacy? The need to streamline internal agency operations versus the mandate to collaborate and share data across multiple agencies? The drive to provide new services versus the need to reduce IT spending?

Here’s the ray of light that I find most encouraging: We have an opportunity to work together across the public and private sectors to rewrite the next chapter — as one of technological leadership and global advancement.

I shared this perspective recently at the Enterprise Architecture 2009 event in Washington, D.C.

When you consider both the promise and the inherent challenges in government IT, there’s no question that cloud computing has a central role to play going forward. Cloud computing is a nascent market at present and we have a lot of work to do as an industry to address key barriers to broad adoption of cloud within government agencies. But before we get to that, let’s explore the basic question: why cloud?

In its simplest form Cloud computing is when IT resources and services are abstracted from the underlying infrastructure and provided “on demand” and “at scale” in a multi-tenant environment. If you think about it, cloud computing is the most network-centric computing architecture ever, in that it relies on the network to deliver IT value and functionality.

In our ongoing discussions with government CIOs, flexibility is the biggest advantage they see in moving to the cloud model. Cloud computing promises to enable a new level of elasticity in IT via on-demand resource allocation and dynamic provisioning — not to mention faster application deployment. Cost is the other big advantage with cloud computing, especially the opportunity to reduce CapEx spending, since you are essentially outsourcing IT hardware to the cloud.

But if you’re managing IT for a government agency, there are some significant limitations relative to the cloud model that must be addressed. Perhaps most important, we must develop a trusted approach to cloud computing. Without trust, the economics and increased flexibility enabled by the cloud make little difference. Trust in cloud computing centers on four core concepts ― these are the challenges that keep government IT people up at night and these are areas we are working to address across Cisco:

Security – Traditional issues around data and resource access control, encryption and incident detection

Control – The ability of the agency to directly manage how and where data and software is deployed, used and destroyed

Service-Level Management – The definition, contracting and enforcement of service level agreements among a variety of parties involved

Compliance – Conformance with required regulatory, legal and general industry requirements (such as PCI, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley)

The key for every IT organization is to evolve to the cloud while leveraging their current assets and investments. Agencies simply do not have the luxury of throwing away today’s infrastructure and applications in favor of new architectures.

We are already working with a variety of organizations to build what we call private clouds. Private clouds combine a cloud operating system with Cisco’s cloud internetworking technology portfolio to link agency and service provider resources into a single agency-managed cloud environment. This cloud is then available to any device, anywhere via standard TCP/IP networking technologies. Importantly, the cloud also gives IT the ability to reach out and leverage the resources of cloud service providers. Private Clouds fundamentally change the dynamic between IT and the rest of the organization by reducing inefficiencies and increasing the rate of business innovation.

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  1. Cost is the other big advantage with cloud computing, especially the opportunity to reduce CapEx spending, since you are essentially outsourcing IT hardware to the cloud…””well said. I think in India, if Government/Public Sector CIOs can adopt Cloud computing and SaaS, good amount of money (citizens’ tax)to be spend on IT initiatives can be saved. But the question would be “”whether data can be stored in cloud or not?””. As Government/Public sector enterprises are comfortable with online banking and other transactions, I believe data security or privacy concerns can be resolved with minimum efforts.”

  2. Government plans and their commitment for cloud computing seems very promising. I do certainly appreciate and congratulate the government leaders and their courageous and bold steps in driving the Cloud adoption.

  3. *Excellent article*What I think is the most important issue we have to address is the bandwidth, we are still hovering around 20Mbps when some countries are at 100Mbps or more. Nonetheless when we add more security the actual speed is much less. I believe the solution,can be a standard framework which can be based on existing models and best practices of the IT governance of private + government organizations and it should be simple and easy to integrateHarshad S.AhireNetwork EngMec Netcomm NashikIndia

  4. Padmasree, You made a very good point. Yes, we have been spending too much time debating on SaaS vs on-premise hosting of our applications. Instead, our focus should have been on creating rich and memorable user experiences. This not only creates emotional bonding and loyalty with our customers but also offers sustainable competitive advantage. However, to fulfill this ambitious goal, we need agile, stable, and scalable service delivery platform. In spite of the all trends and developments in the technology, like SOA and Web 2.0 serving, we are still mired with IT infrastructure complexities and deeply fire-walled applications. So, the next frontier of innovation will require the customer focused, lean and optimized, utility based, and demand driven (CLOUD) computing infrastructure.Though some argue that Cloud is the new business model or outsourced IT model, my view is that it is both an architectural paradigm shift and an economic model enabling optimal pricing and rapid innovation of new services without a huge capital outlays. Architectural paradigm shift because we need to think differently the way we build, deploy and manage services in the Cloud. With the Cloud, we can focus on innovating to fulfill this new user centric view instead of spending all our time and resources to keep the lights on. Current applications were designed with different assumptions. Designers and developers glued their applications tightly to an operating environment and network. Hard-wired whole bunch of localized configurations into their applications. They fused-in specialized ACLs into network switches. Built rings of firewalls and VLANs of hell around their applications. May holes were punched and many controls were enforced around these applications. Moving these applications into Cloud is a huge undertaking. Last 3 years, I have studied number of applications including massively complex Supply Chain Management processes to stateless web serving applications. Moving them into Cloud involves either complete re-write or re-engineering of data extractions, transformation, and loading in addition to re-wiring their business processes. Many of these applications assumed local optimizations, caching, connection pooling. It is even shockingly surprising that many application secrets were buried and firewalled on those servers. Moving them off the localized fire-walled environments to Cloud needs architectural re-thinking. Though many enterprises are curious to move to the Cloud, my view is that they are not ready to embrace Cloud unless they look at their architecture and infrastructure more holistically. Virtualization is necessary but not sufficient. Extreme automation is the key. Today 76% of the production outages are caused by errors in configuration or change management. So, Continuation Integration combined with an automated deployment should be integrated into the services. Cloud is a promise. Service is the fulfillment. End-to-End Service is what it matters to consumers/customers. With that said, majority of Cloud (Public Cloud) adoptions will be driven by emerging companies, services, and consumer facing web companies. Meanwhile, enterprises will start to adopt the private cloud model for their enterprise applications. That will give them fairly good opportunity to look at their applications, networking, security, and integration infrastructure more holistically. Once these applications are rewired into services with infrastructure 2.0 thinking, then they can burst their capacity needs into the public clouds. I see this as a multi-year journey.

  5. Well thought out post. You captured the 4 pillars of the rust”” in the cloud very succinctly. Government plans and their commitment for cloud computing seems very promising. I do certainly appreciate and congratulate the government leaders and their courageous and bold steps in driving the Cloud adoption. During the times of crisis, we need innovations like this. Recent announcement by Vivek Kundra to source services from the public cloud is definitely an attractive model but there are many challenges below the surface. My sense is that many government workloads need to run on a controlled environment and their users demand greater degree of control. There may be many bumps on their way to use the public clouds due to their existing assets or contracts or due to data security and access challenges. They may have to run their applications or services in a “private cloud” for a while. Then the bigger issue is how to peer, monitor, and manage the “private cloud” infrastructure across many agencies owned assets and/or including resources from outside the government agencies. Even in the private industries, we face many daunting challenges with existing environments; issues with software licenses, already committed support/infrastructure contracts, hardwired applications and security and access control nightmares across different data centers. I am not sure how easy it is to transition the legacy and more complex, government-owned infrastructure to a “private cloud”? Then comes the much bigger challenge: how successful they can be in establishing the governance of a private cloud infrastructure involving several agencies?Nonetheless, there is a tremendous amount of excitement, interest, and opportunities around the Cloud Computing. To keep this wave of innovation in IT transformation moving forward, there are many issues that need to be addressed. It is time for all private industries and government to come to the aid of working together to define interoperable, secure cloud-serving infrastructure. Your initiative to bring many industry partners together to define such an environment is laudable. Collective innovation can help us move forward and together we all can create and claim huge value from this opportunity.

  6. Cloud is still a buzz word and yet to have any enterprise wide implementations. Lot of concerns and restrictions need to be hased out before it moves into enterprise mainstream.

  7. Good question Amitabh re application architectures. Much of the discussion regarding apps today focuses on the debate between pure cloud (SaaS) delivery vs. the traditional on-premise approach to apps. Our view is that we need to move beyond this conversation and focus on the user experience. Here’s what we mean by that: As users we all want an experience that’s consistent and seamless, with the ability to stay connected and have instant access to the services and functionality we need, regardless of our location or what device we happen to be using. To deliver that seamless experience we’re going to need a combination of different types of applications — some that are on-premise and others that are on-demand.

  8. Excellent article! However, would also like to see the considerations of application architecture in the thought process. The reality is that, most new and enhanced apps will be designed using the SOA paradigm (hope am not making a big assumption here!) and SOA and Cloud are more and more looking like converging in key concepts. With this background, should we also not think about services based design and governance which comes with it?

  9. According to a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) called IT Governance in Practice, Insight from leading CIOs. They interviewed 47 CIO from around the world with what was considered to be mature IT governance processes in place. The reasons given for implementing an IT governance processes frequently included:* Need for IT alignment (60% of the participants);* Regulatory pressure, e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley (40% of the participants);* IT Governance is a natural followon from Corporate Governance projects and is enforced by Board/Executive management or headquarters (53% of the participants);* An identified need for Performance Improvement, e.g. cost of IT, lack of effective solutions, efficiency gains (from a reduction in duplication) (56% of the participants); and* Improved risk management (37.5% of the participants).””I would like to focus on two success factors for IT governance.””Defining a sound set of performance indicators (SMART measurements are an absolute must in order to provide evidence of benefits)””””Don’t over-engineer IT Governance – IT Governance measures are key to the success of IT within the organisation. However, it is important not to overdo the effort with elaborate multiple committees, overkill in terms of monitoring and reporting, overly complicated processes and templates. An over-engineered solution may create more resistance and ultimately be circumvented and consequently less effective.”” A very good article by Mike Schaffner,for complete article please visit believe the solution,can be a standard framework which can be based on existing models and best practices of the IT governance of private + government organizations and it should be simple and easy to integrate.Syed SharukhFounder & PresidentRFIDA ” Radio Frequency Identification Association””

  10. Great insights, Padmasree. Checked out your presentation at DC event as well. Good stuff.At the risk of over simplifying, the transition to cloud and ‘private cloud’ computing you describe is analogous to the early years of telecom (1990’s) – when the industry shifted from private/customer premise to centrex to then VPN (virtual private network) based networks. The difference this time is the networks are transporting video, rich data, and multimedia content.So, to me the evolution (and challenges) you describe are inevitable – it is a question of who will lead the way. Certainly Cisco is poised to do just that.Renu KulkarniHead, Future MediaGeorgia Institute of Technology

  11. Hi Padmasree,I must say just one word Excellent””Syed SharukhFounder & PresidentRFIDA “” Radio Frequency Identification Association”””

  12. Regardless of any new developments – the bottom line for every person is trust. IT companies and Government abuse of IT has reduced this trust and in the very first instance, any new global or national IT framework will have to prove that privacy, confidentiality, security and control is assured, transparent & traceable.Whilst we have the technology to do this, I just wonder if the powers to be would allow any such framework to become a reality?

  13. Rodos, re your comment on other geo-political regions, the British government is on similar lines me the issue is not so much infrastructure but managing large IT programmes from running amuck.

  14. the main driver for govt to adopt cloud computing is ime to value””. opening up the eyes of the non-technical users to how quickly they can have a problems solved. as you articulate very well, flexibility is required, but comes when IT gets involved.great post…looking forward to the govt computing revolution.”

  15. There’s a human challenge bigger than any technical challenge presented by a cloud environment. In Minnesota, we have an IT agency that plays the role of service provider/coop. As the push for shared services continues, the highly qualified staff needed at individual agencies will diminish. Those people won’t voluntarily work themselves out of a job for the sake of a public that doesn’t currently respect the work they do on their behalf. So how will this cloud initiative be done? As directives from the highest levels of management and/or legislators. It will be an action that may gain favor with the public, but it may also result in a work environment that is rife with distrust and ill will towards management. Don’t neglect to measure the human impact of these technical decisions.

  16. Sandeep: Good point regarding the need for government CIOs and vendors to work together in a collaborative effort. The old saying that “all ships rising on an incoming tide” definitely applies when it comes to this multi-year journey to cloud computing. We need to work in partnership across the public and private sectors and our long-term success will hinge on our ability to establish clear industry standards to ensure interoperability and workload portability.

  17. Rodos asks an excellent question regarding other regions across the globe: I would say that numerous governments around the world are also driving a change and making the move to the cloud model. For instance there is movement in this direction in Japan and many parts of Europe as well.

  18. Thanks to all for sharing your input, excellent comments!Renu makes a good analogy between where we are today in the early stages of cloud computing and the big, structural shifts we went through in the telecom industry in the 1990s. With cloud, we are in fact driving toward a fundamental change in how IT is delivered and consumed. To a great extent this shift has already occurred in the world of the consumer web, where the cloud model is now firmly entrenched and there to stay (e.g. Google, FaceBook). The challenge now (as Tiju noted) is to make cloud services enterprise-class and thus ready for prime time both in the private sector and across government agencies. To Surendra’s point, many government workloads will absolutely need to run in very controlled environments with robust levels of security and access control. That is the core philosophy behind private clouds, which take the flexibility and elasticity inherent in the cloud model and combine those attributes with maximum control placed in the hands of CIOs and their IT teams.

  19. Dear Padmasree,The blogs raises key issues and approaches. Reflecting on the blog and your discussion on the upcoming conference on collaboration & smart cities, wish to share few thoughts :Going by the first principle, the governments at all the levels- National, provincial and local are transforming themselves from a ‘vending machine type’ ( term used by Frank Benest, former City Manager , Palo Alto California) to ‘barn raising’ ( collaboration\ community) model.Today , Citizens no longer perceive themselves as passive “consumers” of government services, but as part of the solution to deal more effectively with the emerging issues. The civil society and Virtual communities actively participate in the policy, prioritization and resource allocation process.Loss of monopoly :Although government is still central to society, it is now widely recognized that governance is not the sole prerogative of governments, but that civil society and the private sector also have an important role to play in this sphere. It is no longer in control of the channels of delivering service to the citizens , but has to compete or collaborate with various service providers.The ‘Cloud’ is one of the channel available to the Government to enhance the competiveness of the local community (smart cities\counties…) because ‘competitive communities are sustainable communities’.In the above context, we need Government CIO’s and Vendor community to collaboratively transform, to meet the requirement of this new order and community aspirations and eliminate the ‘balancing acts’. Kind RegardsSandeep

  20. Nice thoughts!!Private clouds will be next wave, which is going to revolutionize the Enterprise IT. Moving to the cloud while leveraging their current assets and investments will be one of biggest challenge IT industry need to address to enable cloud computing.

  21. Padmasree, is the US leading the way here? What about other geo-political regions? Are they already leading or will other governments wait and see the results of the US Fed? Be interested to hear an international perspective.

  22. very interesting article. Explained very nicely. Would like to stay updated about cloudcompting.

  23. Great blog. I think you have really captured the 4 key issues to address in the Government adopting a cloud architecture. Security and Control being the two primary factors. I would imagine with current HAIPE compliant gateway style encryption architecture’s cloud computing can be implemented on classified networks. Once again great thoughts.