As firms experiment with pay-as-you computing infrastructures and an ever-broadening constellation of services and technologies, cloud computing is all the rage in the prviate sector. But the public sector -- a vast technology consumer in the U.S. with different spending habits, requirements and obligations --is dragging its heels.
Ron Rollo, the deputy CIO for the Ohio Auditor of State's Office, is now centralizing IT in offices scattered among 88 counties by gathering data and services under his own roof, but he's cautious about outsourcing.
The agency once outsourced its Oracle financials but administrative reshuffling removed the outsourced personnel, leaving Rollo in the lurch with no way to administer financial records and no way to get the data out of the hosted, proprietary solution. Eventually, he was forced to hire an outside business to fix it, which was exactly what he didn't want to do.
As he tried to move away from tape backups, which he deemed antiquated and expensive, Rollo investigated online backups. But he found that hard drives were still cheaper. He also didn't find solid disaster recovery options in online data storage services, even though that's a standard option for most business these days.
Rollo isn't unaware of cloud computing; he just finds it a poor fit, since he's personally responsible for a great deal of public information. He said he expects he will find services to use in the cloud, but he's in no particular hurry. "I'm keeping an eye on it, just like people watch the market," he said.
Consultants rub hands together as cloud heats up
The field of consultants and technology providers that service public-sector IT know that the cloud change is coming, and they're tuning services to sell cloud to careful administrators like Rollo.
Anthony Ferrigno, the VP of global sales strategy for outsourcing at Ciber Inc., a systems integrator, said his public-sector clients and enterprises were just getting into virtualization, but the concept of automating and delivering virtual computing power is still off the radar.
"They're just getting their arms around [virtualization]," he said, let alone advanced concepts such as self-service and automation. Ciber decided it would cut to the chase and buffer clients from infrastructure. Ferrigno said it replaced its collection of business process management software with a suite of tools from CA that gave Ciber a unified front to deliver products and services.
Now, he said, Ciber operations and Ciber customers operate around a single hub driven by CA's Web portals. That saves Ciber the headaches of systems that don't interoperate and allows customers to get the services they want without worrying whether it's cloud or not. CA has been busily integrating data center, business process, and management tools under a single umbrella and pitching itself as next-gen cloud infrastructure.
New studies bear out Rollo's approach to public-sector IT and Ferrigno's strategic play. Enterprise is far out in front of the public-sector when it comes to understanding and adapting to cloud computing.
Studies show public sector lags behind
A recent survey by F5 Networks Inc. showed broad acceptance and experimentation with cloud, with 82% of the 250 firms surveyed saying they were in "some stage of trial, implementation, or use of public clouds," and more than two-thirds expected to spend more on cloud next year.
A parallel survey by MeriTalk showed that 35% of the 500 federal IT managers and CIOs surveyed didn't know whether their organization could use cloud services. Further, more than 40% were already using things that qualified as cloud -- Softwareas a Service applications, for instance -- but didn't know it. Only 65 responding organizations correctly reported they were using cloud services.
"The study is showing that there's a lot of confusion," said Mark Zalubas, the CTO of Merlin International, which partnered with NetApp, VMware Inc. and Riverbed to sponsor the study. Zalubas also said the study confirmed a typical attitude for government procurers: They move deliberately slow and wait for technologies to prove themselves in the private sector.
"There's a cultural change that needs to go on, that [will be] measured in generations of IT infrastructure improvements," Zalubas said.
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.