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Federal CIOs must embrace hybrid IT in shift to cloud

Kenneth Corbin | May 31, 2013
Top Gartner analyst urges government tech leaders to keep mission objectives and service approach in mind as they move IT processes to the cloud.

Cearley intends a broader resonance in his message of hybrid computing, urging CIOs to take a wide view of their IT operations to bring a consistency to areas like security and governance across internal, external and mixed environments.

Similarly, he cautions against moving forward with a cloud strategy without an accompanying consideration of how any new deployment will support the organization's strategy and mesh with its enterprise architecture.

Effectively implementing that hybrid approach will often entail a shakeup of roles and responsibilities within a traditional IT operation, designating one team with building services and creating the interface for users, and another with the more foundational elements such as security and deciding whether the process should be housed in a public, private or hybrid cloud.

"You've got parallel efforts that should be going on within your organization," Cearley says.

"It's not just a technology issue, it's an organizational issue," he adds. "We've seen a lot of new org charts come out, particularly in enterprise."

Cloud Cost and Security

Cearley takes a somewhat contrarian view when it comes to two of the issues most central to the discussion of cloud computing: cost and security.

On the former, he challenges the blanket assertion that cloud computing is a cost saver, describing "plenty of cases" he has seen where a cloud solution delivered by an external service provider proved costlier over a 5- or 7-year life cycle than a comparable solution done in-house.

"Everybody starts looking at cloud saying it's going to be a way of saving money, and you know what, there will be targeted areas where you'll save money using cloud services, particularly from external firms, but it's not always going to save you money," Cearley says.

"Don't just assume cloud is cheaper. You've got to have mechanisms to evaluate the life cycle cost over time, and sometimes even if it isn't cheaper, it makes sense to do it anyway, because the number one issue with cloud is agility."

On security, often held up as a leading inhibitor of cloud adoption in the government, Cearley points out that it's a function of the provider, and that many cloud players have stronger data-center security than midsize government agencies and enterprises.

But at its core, cloud computing isn't entirely different from some of the outsourcing functions that businesses have relied on for decades where a level of control over sensitive material is handed over to an outside firm (say, sending a design prototype via FedEx or storing vital paper documents with Iron Mountain).

Then, too, Cearley argues that security is sometimes offered as a red herring from a corner of an IT organization reluctant to give up oversight of certain processes and fearful of the disruption that the cloud could bring.


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