Agency chief information officers realize the need to convert from on-premise data centers to the cloud, but still find it challenging to convince agency heads that it’s a necessary step.

David Bray, CIO of the Federal Communications Commission, managed to move the agency to 100 percent public cloud through commercial service providers by showing agency heads that the FCC was wasting 85 percent of its IT budget on maintaining legacy systems. Bray transitioned the FCC to the cloud in less than two years.

“If you are wedded to legacy systems you are trying to turn a battleship very, very slowly,” Bray said Feb. 8 at the Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group meeting.

Bray said that he thinks that the Federal government should have only three data centers, one for the Department of Defense, one for the intelligence community, and one for civilian agencies.

“Instead of data center consolidation, we should be talking about data center elimination,” Bray said.

He said that the Federal Information Security Management Act should be updated to be more accommodating to agencies that are early cloud adopters. For example, FISMA auditors gave the FCC a “dark mark” for not knowing where its servers were located because the FCC was using the cloud.

Other agencies know that moving to the cloud is a positive step, but believe the process should be different in order to suit each agency’s mission.

“I strongly believe in cloud first but I don’t believe in cloud only,” said Marlon Andrews, deputy CIO of the National Archives and Records Administration.

NARA hasn’t been able to find an automated cloud solution that can ingest the amount of data that the agency must process each day. NARA is tasked with saving and storing all government records and other relevant information.

“We’re not all the way there yet,” Andrews said. “There’s still a lot of things we have to do and get in place.”

Andrews said that he sees the Modernizing Government Technology Act as a good attempt to prioritize what new technologies are needed and appeal to the people allocating the agency budgets, but he still foresees a challenge in paying back the money in the long run.

“It’s a good effort,” Andrews said. “I’m not sure how much it will benefit us for what we want to do.”

Bray argued that there is a cloud solution for any agency, regardless of the amount of data, money, or the level of security needed. Agency CIOs are held back by broken procurement systems and cost, which forces CIOs to find ways around the system. The FCC uses 14 different cloud providers to give the agency options in case one of them drastically increases its prices.

The FCC also sponsored six services in order to get them certified through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Bray suggested that other agencies should consider sponsoring a cloud service provider that meets their needs in order to speed up the certification process, which has often turned into an obstacle for many companies. Bray said this is one way that agencies that are hesitant to move to the cloud could gain the partnerships and confidence they need to make that jump.

“I don’t see the argument as to why we’re special, we can’t get there,” Bray said of those hesitant agencies.

The General Services Administration, which is supposed to provide a pathway for agency acquisitions, hasn’t focused on the cloud as much as it should, according to Bray.

“GSA is a house divided that’s not providing acquisition as a service,” Bray said. “I go and I look at [the United States Digital Service] and 18F and they never really talk about cloud whatsoever and I think that was a disservice.”

Bray said that the solution that USDS and 18F offer is for agencies to put all of their code onto, a service that allows agencies to host and update websites. Bray said this solution is not good enough.

“I have seen a fascination in writing code from scratch that really surprises me,” Bray said.

Bray said that the Federal government should realize that writing code is not its strong suit and that the Office of Management and Budget should write a rule that mandates agencies to justify why they would need to write their own code.

“Really, where the value gets to be is where we get to focus on the mission rather than writing code ourselves,” Bray said.



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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.