Blog post

Are Governments Building a Legacy of Private Clouds?

By Andrea Di Maio | February 15, 2011 | 4 Comments


Over the last week I have speaking with several vendors who are developing or restructuring their “cloud” service offerings for government. What I have noticed is the increasing popularity of the term “private cloud” as in “we’ll help you build your own cloud on premises” as opposed to “we will run a private cloud for you off premises”. Actually earlier this month I read again about the US Army’s email migration into the cloud. According to NextGov

The Army will begin migrating to an enterprise e-mail service in the middle of February with 1.4 million unclassified and 200,000 classified accounts moved by the end of the year, according to a report by the Army News Service.

According to Government Computer News, predicted savings are in the order of $100 million per year, taking into account that the current cost per use will drop from $100 to $39 per year, and users will have better functionality, ranging from an increase in mailbox size to the ability to access their email anytime anywhere.

From the news I have read (I have not had a chance yet to speak to anybody at the US Army or at DISA), this looks like a sensible migration, where there is no change of email system (they will remain on Exchange) but significant improvements in service levels and value for money.

However, this is yet another instance of a private cloud. Of course this will leverage the excellent work that DISA has been doing for a long time with its RACE infrastructure. But will they run a private cloud only for the Army, or will their infrastructure also support email for other agencies or forces going forward, hence become a true multi-tenant community cloud?

It seems to me that the migration to a private cloud is “relatively” painless with respect to more traditional types of infrastructure or application migrations, although it requires a new way to consume and possibly pay for services. If your provider is either your own IT department or another government agency running a private cloud for you, many of the stumbling blocks about security and control can be overcome.

But all this leads to an interesting question.

Once many government agencies will run (or have somebody run) their own private cloud, what incentive will they have to move to community or public clouds that consolidate and replace those? Isn’t there a risk that what is being done today will soon become a legacy of private clouds that won’t allow government as a whole to realize but a fraction of potential benefits?

Comments are closed


  • Sebastian says:

    I am wondering if it fits the definition of cloud if it is merely a hosted email solution, running from one or a few central servers.

  • Andrea, I’m disappointed by this post.
    I’m not familiar with a Gartner-specific definition of “cloud,” but I am familiar with industry standard definitions, and with the NIST definition (have you submitted a comment on that document disputing a standardized definition?). Private and hybrid (fail-over and test environment) clouds fill a real need for mission critial infrastructure and for continuity of operations.
    Outsourced, vendor-staffed cloud services are notoriously subject to failure (just read the citations in new NIST security and privacy report, or try using popular consumer products like Tumblr or Twitter for a while).
    One of the best public data center projects in the U.S. is the State of Utah’s consolidation, which resulted in, yes, a private cloud and millions in savings.
    Outsourcing critical IT components may or may not be the best decision for government agencies. A Friday-through-Sunday outage of the GSA-hosted the week that CIO Kunra released his federal cloud strategy paper shows that perhaps outsourcing is OK for non-critical sites – almost one complained about the outage, and it has not yet been explained.
    Are you lumping in NASA’s Nebula with your criticism of private cloud? Interestingly, NASA’s commercial partner in OpenStack was responsible for a major outage of the California Secretary of State’s website on election night in November.
    Unless we’re reading from totally different playbooks, cloud is not a synonym for vendor outsourcing.

  • That is not a private cloud it is an enterprise Exchange system. There are real cloud solutions out there, that would have given 10 times the storage space and saved building and staffing that Exchange system infrastructure. Was it a good move? The article said everyone had to change email addresses, clean out old mail and hope nothing was lost in overnight transfers.

  • @Adriel – Thanks for your comments.
    Firrst of all there has been a Gartner cloud definition for a long time, much earlier that the NIST one. We also published two research notes in 2009 to compare ours and NIST’s, and highlighting differences. However we recognize that the NIST one has been adopted by industry, and it is definitely good enough. I have been using it in my research notes and presentations on cloud given in several US states since 2009.
    The point of my post is really not to say that cloud equals outsourcing (although it does from an ability-to-manage-SLAs perspective). My point is that by pursuing almost exclusively a private cloud strategy, government agencies will not achieve the potential savings that they might achieve by adopting community or public cloud solutions.
    I do not think I have been critical of NASA: that’s a community cloud, pretty much like the IBM federal cloud or the Microsoft government cloud are. Moving workloads into this sort of clouds will create economies of scale that won’t be available on most private clouds.
    So I do not care much about whether a cloud is managed by a vendor outside the government premises, or by an agency that is very good at IT on government premises. What I care about is that agencies look at these community clouds as much as they look at private clouds, which in most instances are nothing else than a brushed-up, virtualized version of the data centers they have been running for a long time.