Cloud Computing in the Federal Government: On a Cloudy Day How It Will Astound You

I had the privilege of tutoring incredible lady in college Algebra the same week that I had to be on a Cloud Computing panel at FOSE. First, I must say that though we both got very little sleep, I’m so happy that Shakeba did well on her final. But it occurs to me that the advice that I gave to her to coach her through her astounding moment … just take the next step … is the same advice that Government IT Leaders need to follow with respect to leveraging value from this astounding technology. 


Gartner, Inc. did some recent research to discuss the outlook for Government participation in Cloud Computing.  The research, Cloud Computing for Government Is Cloudy (Jeff Vining, Andrea Di Maio), lays out some key issues.:


  • [T]here is little or no evidence of government agencies being ready to move beyond this and move mission-critical datasets into the cloud as part of an enterprise-wide strategy.
  • Government cloud-computing environments have common IT risks in areas such as data privacy, portability, access, loss and security as well as fears of vendor lock-in.
  • Because of cloud computing risks, federated government-owned/controlled cloud computing arrangements may have greater chance for short-term viability.


The emphasis above is mine, but the readiness, fears, and risks belong to each decision-maker.  James Staten, from Forrester writes in Is Cloud Computing Ready for the Enterprise?:


Forrester spoke with more than 30 companies in this market to determine its worthiness for enterprise consideration and found that it provides a very low-cost, no-commitment way for enterprises to quickly get new services and capabilities to market that entirely circumvents the IT department. Infrastructure and operations professionals can try to ignore it as it is just in its infancy, but doing so may be a mistake as cloud computing is looking like a classic disruptive technology.


I’d like to say it a little more bluntly.  If CIOs don’t get ready, manage fears and manage their risk, they will get run over by this disruptive technology.  Your organization is doing it anyway – without you!  So do something!


You don’t have to move your entire enterprise into the cloud, just take the first step and look at some appropriate datasets.  This doesn’t have to be an all or none decision.


When making vendor choices, go in with the end in mind.  I guess no one likes to enter into a marriage with a prenuptial agreement in the event of divorce, but then after all, this is your enterprise.


Don’t confuse control and ownership with security and viability.  And for crying out loud, please make sure that you have a healthy – ok … semi-healthy governance process.


This tracks nicely to the advice I gave Shakeba about her final:


  • Don’t be afraid, but don’t be a hero either.
  • Make sure you have a good sharp pencil with an eraser.
  • Follow sound mathematical principals, and you will always be fine.


CIOs should not run and hide.  The great possibilities in this disruptive technology merit us taking the next stops.  Those of us who ignore it, will fail or be left behind.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

7 thoughts on “Cloud Computing in the Federal Government: On a Cloudy Day How It Will Astound You”

  1. Linda,
    I do agree: we need to take the first step as this stuff will give results not only ‘per se’ but also because will help us in finding new paradigms in architecture, operations, provisioning … and this is a plus anyway.

  2. Hi Linda,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. AWEsome.

    The keys that you gave me unlocked the doors to algebra and the various steps that it took to get there, led me to see that things can be done in different ways.

    You showed me how to use the tools that are required of me when dealing with change, and even how to take a chance and open the door labeled unknown/fear. In my case,that fear was a change of mindset.

    We should all keep our tools handy, be prepared to use them, and leave room for the unexpected. After all, the unexpected WILL happen.


  3. Linda: I hear a lot of discussion of cloud computing and the wonders the technology has to offer, but I must ask this: Can we embrace cloud computing without messing it up?

    Aside from the IT Security, Data integrity and protection issues, we (the government) have what I consider to be a troubling history in our relationships with vendors of proprietary software. We have documents floating around now on the Constellation program that I doubt we’ll be able to still open and read before Ares V is supposed to launch, as “Whatever the latest MS-Word/Excel/Windchill/Cradle format is today” has become our standard for archival. Can you still read any of your old Lotus Notes files? How about your WordPerfect documents?

    Perhaps if embracing ‘cloud computing’ drove us toward adopting only open standards for our data storage and processing needs – standards which we’d be able to drive, alter or at the very least sustain for the future – cloud computing could be a very real positive change for our agency. As it is, I fear it’ll be just one more implementation of a proprietary format for what is mostly public data, and one more vendor will be given the keys with which to lock up our data assets.

    You mention that if we do not embrace the technology it may run us over. That’s true, but I would more emphatically say that if we do not -control- the technology, it will control us.


  4. Matt:

    Your comments are very thoughtful and insightful. The last sentence I think nails the point very well … if we don’t control the technology, it will control us. (My Jurassic Park theory)

    Many consultants warn CIOs to enter into these arrangements only with their exit strategy already established. Furthermore, GSA has started getting the ball rolling in making this a viable solution in the Federal Government.

    See –

    I have to say that our history of Laissez-faire IT governance will make these challenges even more difficult. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take it on.

    And finally, there’s clearly value with the Federal Government establishing an appropriate strategic relationship with vendors to address issues of IT security, records retention, and interoperability.

  5. Am a vendor for content on-demand cloud computing via Software as a Service. There are islands of opportunity at each fed civilian agency to leverage cloud-based solutions that operate in the unclassified arena. We are seeing companies reduce their IT burden by leveraging cloud for email, CRM, and content management; fed can do the same. Would welcome the opportunity to discuss how NASA may want to consider Cloud for content.

  6. The structure of federal governments vary from institution to institution based on a broad definition of a basic federal political system, there are two or more levels of government that exist within an established territory and govern through common institutions with overlapping or shared powers as prescribed by a constitution. When I was writing my about govrnment.

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