The First Annual Data Center Investment Conference and Expo was hosted on July 24th and 25th in Washington, DC. Data centers have become increasingly critical to an expanding number of industries and the Conference was attended by data center industry icons, including owners, operators, developers, investors, builders, federal and military operators, and top service providers.

For the second time this year, I had the opportunity to participate on a Federal Data Center Roundtable - this time with Federal Aviation Administration CIO Steve Cooper, Kevin Jackson of NJVC, a a global IT support company, and representatives of technology companies Carousel and Equinix. We discussed the Administration’s “Cloud First” and “Shared Services” initiatives, as well as the challenges and benefits of each.

In December 2010, the Office of Management and Budget issued a "Cloud First" policy that required federal agencies to implement cloud-based solutions whenever a secure, reliable and cost-effective cloud option is available. Cloud computing offers many opportunities for government to consolidate and streamline operations, just as it does for business, by replacing expensive, on-site infrastructure with fast, flexible, cost-effective IT services on demand.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to assess the progress selected agencies have made and to identify challenges they are facing in implementing the policy. In its July 2012 report - “Progress Made but Future Cloud Computing Efforts Should be Better Planned” - the GAO identified seven common challenges associated with the implementation of the OMB’s “Cloud First” policy. They include:

  1. Meeting Federal Security Requirements
  2. Obtaining guidance
  3. Acquiring knowledge and expertise
  4. Certifying and accrediting vendors
  5. Ensuring data portability and interoperability
  6. Overcoming cultural barriers
  7. Procuring services on a consumption (on-demand) basis.

At the federal level, we concluded that IT transformation can be accelerated by consolidating data centers, transitioning legacy IT systems to cloud-based infrastructure and services, and integrating security into the cloud architecture from the start. But to do that, the federal government needs to make targeted investments in enabling technologies, such as virtualization, scalable data storage, data analytics and information security, in order to get the maximum amount of cost effectiveness, efficiency and agility over the long haul.