The cloud computing revolution has fundamentally reshaped the way organizations view their IT infrastructure and how they manage data within their networks. It has also allowed organizations to shift the high CAPEX costs associated with buying and maintaining hardware, to the more flexible OPEX costs that come with outsourcing the underlying technology services that power cloud computing. For government agencies, however, selecting a cloud provider isn’t quite as simple as it is for a private business.
What Makes Government Cloud Providers Different Than Commercial Public Cloud Providers?
Government cloud providers are not substantially different from commercial public cloud providers. In fact, they’re usually the same technology companies offering two different services. Most government cloud platforms are built upon the same architecture as their public counterparts and host many of the same applications and services.
The big difference when it comes to government cloud providers is the level of security built into the platform. That’s because governments handle huge amounts of privileged and sensitive information, ranging from the private information of individual citizens all the way up to classified data with national security implications. Keeping that information secure is a high priority for government agencies at the federal, state, and local level.
Due to these concerns, government cloud adoption has been slower than cloud growth in the private sector. Technology vendors need to undergo a more thorough vetting and assessment process before they can bid for government contracts. In the early days of cloud computing, providers found it difficult to meet the diverse requirements laid out by different federal agencies, states, and municipalities, but the process became much more streamlined after the development of the Federal Risk and Management Program (FedRAMP) standard.
What is FedRAMP?
First released by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2011, FedRAMP was designed to support the federal government’s “Cloud First” initiative (now known as “Cloud Smart”) to restructure the sprawling IT infrastructure of multiple federal agencies. The program interacted with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002, which established the IT security requirements that all federal agencies needed to meet and effectively created the vetting standards for IT vendors and contractors. Since FISMA was written before the cloud computing revolution, FedRAMP was created to clarify how those standards should be applied to cloud providers.
Government Cloud Providers and FedRAMP
Prior to FedRAMP, government cloud providers had to meet different security requirements for each agency they worked with, which meant going through a lengthy authorization process before a contract could even be awarded. FedRAMP’s standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring brought every agency’s compliance controls into alignment, making it easier for vendors to compete for multiple projects without having to go through a lengthy and expensive approval process every time.
How FedRAMP Affects States and Municipalities
Most US states did not have clearly defined security requirements when it came to cloud computing services for government use. In the absence of more stringent requirements, the implementation of FedRAMP effectively created a nationwide standard for government entities across the state and local levels. This proved to be a boon for cloud vendors because it was much easier for them to comply with a single government standard rather than meet many unique standards. Since FedRAMP set a higher bar for security than many states were using previously, the new standard effectively upgraded the cloud security controls of all governmental organizations throughout the remainder of the decade.
Tips for Choosing a Government Cloud Provider
Unsurprisingly, the most successful government cloud providers have been technology companies with a strong presence in the public cloud market such as Microsoft. Their ability to leverage economies of scale and enforce strong risk management strategies has given them a significant advantage when it comes to competing for government cloud contracts.
In most cases, government cloud providers deliver cloud computing services that are very similar to their public-facing environments, but have been customized to make them suitable for government use. In addition to being fully FedRAMP compliant, they meet several auditing standards required in the private sector and have a longstanding reputation for delivering high-quality services.
Besides compliance, here are just a few more things you should look for in any potential government cloud provider before making a decision:
- Certifications. Cloud providers that put effort towards attaining certifications show a dedication to adhering to best practices and keeping up with industry standards. For instance, if security is the top priority for your government organization, looking for cloud providers accredited with the most recent and reputable security certifications could help you shortlist potential partners.
- Uptime and reliability. There are several ways you can measure the reliability of a cloud provider before signing into an agreement with them. One of the best insights is to check the performance of a provider against their SLAs for the last 6-12 months.
- Disaster recovery plan. While uptime perfection is what everyone strives for, sometimes things happen and downtime is inevitable. However, it’s how a cloud provider deals with and responds to that downtime that really counts. So, ensure your potential cloud provider has established, clearly documented, and proven processes for dealing with downtime, as well as how they plan to communicate with customers during any times of disruption.
- Integration. Before choosing a government cloud provider, you want to be sure the monitoring and reporting tools they offer can seamlessly integrate into your overall management and reporting systems. This makes it easier for both parties to stay on the same page without any communication or visibility problems down the line.
Start Your Journey to the Cloud with DSM
Migrating to the cloud is a huge undertaking for many government agencies, especially for state and local offices with limited resources. That’s why DSM provides a fully customizable cloud journey that helps them select and utilize only the cloud services they need. As Florida’s preferred cloud provider, DSM delivers both bundled and a la carte services to support your journey to the cloud. Our hybrid cloud approach can incorporate your public and private cloud requirements, including CJIS compliance, DRaaS automation, and DPaaS replication.
Contact our team today to find out what DSM’s cloud services can do for your government agency.