While the IC’s research organization looks into adding security to cloud environments, in the here and now, intelligence agencies are sharing more data.
Cloud computing may feel like the new kid on the block, but anyone who has had a Gmail account knows otherwise.
It’s been a little less than a decade since cloud computing took hold for large enterprises, but the idea of accessing services from a remote server is nothing new. Even with that history, government is taking a cautious approach with cloud.
Just 53 percent of federal employees rated their cloud experiences as very successful in a 2015 survey from MeriTalk. The survey underscored a number of lingering concerns feds still have with cloud computing, such as moving data once in the cloud, integrating cloud with legacy systems and signing long-term service agreements.
Those numbers show that despite the proven benefits of cloud, agencies still face hurdles to adoption.
The survey is not all bad news: Seventy-five percent of respondents said they want to move more services to the cloud, so the desire is there. The question now is how; thankfully, there is a solution in hybrid clouds.
By mixing public and private clouds, agencies can create a comfortable cloud environment.
Highly sensitive information can reside in a private cloud hosted on-premises, complete with cloud encryption gateways to provide additional security. Low-risk data that is already publicly available can be placed in a public cloud, providing agencies with low-cost storage.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) plans to take this approach as it moves the majority of its applications out of the data center and into a commercial cloud provider. By harnessing cloud security technologies, ATF can host applications for a fraction of the price, knowing information is safe whether at rest or in transit.
“[Cloud encryption] gateways open the way for increasingly sensitive applications and data to move to the cloud,” says Walter Bigelow, chief of the ATF IT Systems Management Division.
“They also simplify contractual negotiations with cloud providers by reducing concerns about the number of their staff that have to be cleared.”
There lies a big advantage with cloud: There are a number of complementary tools and technologies that can augment cloud services, allowing agencies to create the working environment they want.
As a major technology provider, Microsoft serves as a trendsetter, and the company has gone all-in on hybrid cloud. In recent months, it announced new software licensing parameters for business users that push customers toward hybrid environments.
The company already announced changes for SQL Server 2016 and Windows Server 2016, aligning purchasing patterns with technology use. While these requirements will only affect business customers immediately, public-sector buyers will surely be required to follow.
While the public and private sectors have different motivations, following industry’s lead is typically good for government. Outside of matters related to national security, a data breach for government results in lost public trust. IDC predicted in 2014 that 65 percent of large IT organizations expected to embrace hybrid cloud technologies before the end of 2015.
“Instead of taking the data to the cloud, what you end up doing is taking the cloud to the data,” says IDC’s Melanie Posey.
As the MeriTalk study showed, government adoption of cloud is slow, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right hybrid solutions, agencies can take advantage of cloud computing’s numerous benefits, securely host their most important data and turn their focus from simply providing technology to adding strategic value.