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'Provider Sprawl' complicates government move to cloud

Kenneth Corbin | Aug. 5, 2014
The market for cloud providers catering to the federal government is getting crowded, challenging CIOs to keep up with the available applications and services while taking pains to stipulate management responsibilities in their SLAs.

Siloes can also invite bigger workflow challenges. Hellekson envisions confusion arising in a scenario where an agency runs Google Apps and Amazon GovCloud with internal infrastructure operations on VMware and Red Hat.

"I've trained people on four different ways of doing things," he says. "Moving between them is non-obvious, right, unless you have a layer of abstraction that sits on top of them that allows you not just to move the files from one folder to another, but also to move the people and processes from one place to another."

Federal CIOs also express some confusion around management responsibilities. These can vary from one provider to another, and also depend on whether the agency is running a public, private or hybrid cloud.

Officials stress the importance of settling those issues up front in the service-level agreements (SLA) that agencies sign with service providers. "The SLA needs to be matched with a measurement that allows you to check and verify," says Eric Simmon, a systems expert with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Likewise, Hellekson emphasizes the value of a clearly defined procedure for agencies to migrate data and applications from one cloud service provider to another to avoid the trap of vendor lock-in.

"If there's one great thing about this push towards cloud in the federal government, it's this renewed attention to exit strategies in IT procurements," Hellekson says. "When you're talking about moving to a cloud, if you really want to take advantage of the elasticity and the flexibility and as-a-service aspect of it, you need to make sure you know how to leave a service as easily as you entered it."


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