Federal IT should survive budget deal; cloud migration effort likely to stay on track

Federal IT agencies took their budget-axe wounds two years ago, so they do well only by contrast

Analysts and some IT execs working for federal government agencies are just as antsy about the implications of the budget deal struck this week as other government workers (about their jobs, mostly, not the economy in general, which is exactly what you'd be worried about if you were in their shoes, too, so don't get all preachy).

Although the deal calls for cuts of $2.5 trillion in spending over the next decade, the cutback isn't likely to cause huge reductions in federal IT operations, according to analysts and IT execs quoted by NextGov.

That's partly because there is already a huge cost-cutting consolidation underway, partly because many in Congress and the White house see increasing the reach of technology to automate as much of the routine of government operations as possible as one of the few real hopes of cutting operational budgets, analysts said.

"I think government will be faced with this situation where either it's going to do less with less, or it's going to have to look at technology as an enabler and as a transformative mechanism to change the way government delivers services," according to Alan Balutis, former CIO at the Commerce Department and now a director at the Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco, which has had to do its own radical cutbacks lately.

Federal IT execs already expect to save $3 billion over the next five years by closing 800 federal data centers and another possible $5 billion in savings by shifting to more efficient cloud computing platforms.

The mandate that all federal facilities identify applications that could be migrated effectively to run in the cloud has pushed many to start a project they might have waited until the consolidation effort was complete to begin.

In a survey of 113 attendees at the federal FOSE computing conference, cloud-management vendor Science Logic found a third of agencies have not identified applications that could be made more effective by migrating them to the cloud. Ninety-two percent of those who have begun at least planning migration are still worried about performance and availability, however.

Almost two thirds said they don't have the tools they need to manage and monitor their IT resources on a still-theoretical federal cloud platform, and one third said they needed to hire people with cloud-computing architecture and migration skills, which the agencies currently lack.

The impending departure of U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra – who was the focal point for much of the consolidation planning and cloud migration effort, has unsettled many, not least because it's unclear whether Kundra's successor will enforce his "cloud first" policy toward new applications.

Half of respondents to Science Logic's survey said cloud-first has already had an impact on their operations; 38 percent are waiting to see what affect it has.

The General Services Administration announced last week it had moved its 17,000 workers onto cloud-based email, the first federal agency to move so heavily into the cloud.

The $6.7 million project to migrate GSA to Google's Gmail began in December, required migration of more than 60 terabytes of data and would cut email maintenance costs in half during the five-year span of the contract, according to GSA.

Microsoft, Amazon and Google are competing for the email business of other federal agencies. Next in line for full cloud-based email is the Agriculture Department, which expects to have its 120,000 employees in the fog by year end.

Most of which is good news for federal IT employees. Like much of the economic and IT news during the past few years, however, it's mainly good by contrast – federal IT people survived the latest flap well because they got it in the neck much earlier than the rest of the government.

So they're not really that much better off, it's just that the bleeding's stopped and most of the wounds have already scabbed over.

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