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Commentary: Government’s Ascension into the Cloud

IT analyst Benjamin Palacio discusses the benefits, the risks and the other concerns surrounding government's move to cloud solutions.

I have always been a proponent to moving government solutions into the cloud. There are still a few things that I feel uncomfortable thinking about moving there. However, the leap has been made. What is essential to understand are the reasons for not moving solutions to the cloud.

The first is the security — and the loss of a physical way to “unplug” solutions. Second, the security in general used to be fairly basic compared to many government onsite implementations including DMZs (sometimes referred to as a perimeter network or screened subnet), firewalls, special routing requirements and others. Another major complexity is cloud hopping — the concept of moving an entire site or application from country to country.

Now, after a lot of mental debate, I have to agree with the great move to the cloud. Let me break it down based on the issues I have previously mentioned and a few features I am finding extremely valuable.

Security a key concern 
As I mentioned earlier, security is a big concern. First, the loss of physical control. Unfortunately, this will be the case — and probably the biggest thing to break from. However, the second issue about security, such as a firewall or DMZ, has also been virtualized and applied to cloud networks. Traps can be put in place that disable networks and applications from running, a lockdown of sorts. This can potentially cause unwanted outages. In considering the implications of an event causing harm to the people involved compared to an outage, the risk of the outage is far less than the event of major data loss.

As for cloud hopping, I interviewed a supervisory agent with the FBI's Sacramento field office last year and briefly discussed the concept of cloud hopping. Unfortunately, he said it is a true problem. The good news is there are government cloud solutions that require resources in the cloud to remain within U.S. boundaries. For most federal, state and local government agencies,  this is a requirement for new cloud-based solutions. In some cloud hosts (I have only tried a few, such as Microsoft’s Azure environment), you can even specifically request the hosts to stay in certain regions of the U.S. This helps maintain performance, which can be one of the few major issues left to resolve with cloud solutions. Transfers of large files, such as database exports, seem to take far longer to the cloud than they did previously, with onsite data centers.

Flexibility a key gain
The biggest gain when moving solutions to the cloud is flexibility. More and more large-scale solutions that governments are purchasing from vendors are in the cloud. Strategically speaking, moving APIs and other solutions in the cloud implements a bridge into intranet resources and scalability. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings provide cost-effective solutions that can be scaled up for performance with the click of a button. No hardware upgrades, software patching and security updates are applied by the cloud host environment, and this removes the necessity for such operations at the government organization. Of course, audits for security compliance will be more important than ever with cloud providers. These compliance concerns require agencies to purchase hosting features on government cloud resources, as other solutions may not provide these compliance options.

Benjamin Palacio is a Senior IT Analyst on the ESSG-Enterprise Solutions Team in the Placer County Information Technology Department and is a CSAC-credentialed IT Executive. The views expressed here are his own. He may be reached at