The way federal agencies access IT services and solutions has changed dramatically. From defense contractors to civilian-focused agencies, the last decade has seen a rapid shift from on-premise to cloud management solutions. Since cloud-first policies were implemented in 2010, federal spending on cloud computing has grown rapidly to $4.1 billion annually, reports The Federal News Network. Let’s take a closer look at how IT consumption models are shifting, and what federal IT decision makers can expect to happen in the year ahead.
Agility Meets Cost Savings
Not long ago, scaling up IT support for a program or department required purchasing a significant amount of hardware. It also typically involved buying licenses for software or a certain number of “seats” for users that are renewed on a regular basis. With the development of a wide range of cloud computing solutions, the model has become outdated—it’s difficult to scale and nearly impossible to control costs. Shifting to subscription-based Software as a Service (SaaS) models and pay-as-you-go infrastructure options like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides agencies the ability to tie costs directly to usage and to adapt to fast-changing IT needs.
The federal government has codified this move as part of the Cloud Smart initiative, which “offers practical implementation guidance for Government missions to fully actualize the promise and potential of cloud-based technologies while ensuring thoughtful execution that incorporates practical realities. The new strategy is founded on three key pillars of successful cloud adoption: security, procurement, and workforce.” In practical terms, Cloud Smart has shifted the focus of government IT initiatives toward adopting subscription-based and cloud services.
Redefining Cloud: IT Consumption in 2020
One of the key tenets of the shift behind Cloud Smart has been recognizing that cloud computing isn’t simply about SaaS or storage, although those remain critical. Instead, agencies are being encouraged to adopt broader service-focused solutions.
CIO.gov notes, “The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defined several cloud deployment models as progressive increases in management by vendors, from Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) where vendors provide the infrastructure and hardware, to Platform as a Service (PaaS) where vendors provide a managed environment for a customer’s application, to Software as a Service (SaaS) where vendors provide a fully managed application and customers need only supply their data. In practice, many major vendor offerings no longer have such well-defined boundaries. Notwithstanding the term’s common usage, the term ‘cloud’ is most accurately applied to those solutions that exhibit five essential characteristics of cloud computing, as defined by NIST: on-demand service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service.”
Trends Driving Change in Federal IT Consumption Models
There are a number of factors driving the fast-changing landscape of today’s federal IT consumption models. These include:
- Flexibility: The needs of a government agency can change quickly—in response to a public health event, for example, or a legislative mandate. In addition, many agencies need solutions that adapt to seasonal or shifting workloads. As a result, agencies are tapping into IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS to better meet the needs of their shifting priorities. Scaling up or down, adding capacity, and configuring for rapid, flexible deployment is possible when circumstances demand an urgent response.
- Cost Savings: With agencies under pressure to do more with less, subscription and pay-as-you-go models offer them the ability to access the services they need—while keeping costs under control. In addition, many agencies are being forced to balance where they draw money from for IT improvements, often segmenting operating capital from development, modernization, and enhancement (DME) funds. By tapping into cloud solutions, it’s possible to deploy new IT capabilities without a large initial capital outlay and to pull from stable, ongoing operating budgets.
- Increased Security: With an ever-changing threat landscape, federal agencies are charged with choosing security solutions that meet their needs. Often, agencies handle sensitive information—whether it’s related to ongoing confidential matters or the public’s personal data. Cloud-based solutions offer agencies additional support in ensuring they continuously meet security standards. Ongoing services and monitoring can be built into both the application and data layers of cloud solutions, identifying and potentially remediating threats before they endanger sensitive federal information. Partnering with cloud providers that have made substantial security investments and have staff on hand to adapt to changing issues, agencies can get the vital support they need in a landscape where IT skills gaps and hiring challenges limit the in-agency cybersecurity expertise.
- Breaking the Outdated Technology Cycle: All too often, agencies are forced to make do with outdated technology, which can leave them vulnerable to everything from security breaches to the inability to meet computing performance standards. When an agency makes the shift to service-based solutions, they’re breaking out of that cycle. SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS solutions continually update and offer the latest solutions to users.
What to Expect in the Year Ahead
In 2020, a number of agencies are piloting new projects, undergoing major IT infrastructure and software investments, or exploring their options to tap into new technology resources to increase their efficiency. Programs such as FedRAMP (the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) provide a standardized government-wide approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of cloud services of all types. Whether you’re looking to upgrade outdated applications or ensure that your cybersecurity plans are fortified for the decade ahead, consider shifting your IT consumption models toward service solutions. They’ll help lay the foundation for agency growth, security, expansion, and flexibility.