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White House CIO Lays Out 'Cloud First' Strategy To Streamline Bloated Government IT

'We have to shift our mindset from asset ownership to service provisioning,' says Vivek Kundra
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- RSA Conference -- The federal government needs to transition from a redundant, expensive IT infrastructure to cloud-based operations, saving billions of dollars and concentrating on delivering better service to its customers -- U.S. citizens, said White House CIO Vivek Kundra, addressing the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Summit audience at the RSA Conference Monday.

"We have to shift our mindset from asset ownership to service provisioning," said Kundra, explaining the government's cloud strategy. The current approach, he said, is broken; at a time when businesses are consolidating data centers and leveraging virtualization technology, the federal government has gone from 432 to 2,094 data centers. While manufacturing is running at 79 percent capacity in industrialized nations, federal government servers are running at perhaps 25 percent capacity, and even lower in some cases.

The CSA also highlighted its research agenda for 2011, including plans for creating version 3 of the Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing, formation of a Cloud SIRT (security incident response team) to address incident response in cloud environments, and security-as-a-service to define and categorize services.

"The government spends more time managing arcane infrastructure than serving people," Kundra said. "Interactions with the IRS should be as streamlined as making an airline reservation."

The federal government is committed to moving $20 billion in IT spending to the cloud and closing 800 data centers by 2015. Each federal agency has been tasked to identify three key services that it will move to the cloud in the next 18 months. Kundra said the government cloud initiative is focusing on four key areas:

>> Security: "We have to lower the coefficient of friction as we move to the cloud," Kundra said. Vendors that sell to the federal government have to be certified by every agency they do business with; not only is that inefficient, but there is no assurance that security is any better as a result, he added. Kundra wants to see a central certification process that will vet a vendor to sell to any agency.

He also expects the government to do a better job detecting and prioritizing threats. Instead of focusing on paperwork certifications that are "probably more secure than what they were trying to protect," there should be an environment of real-time continuous monitoring to identify top threats, and security dashboards with companies who have government contracts.

>> Standards: The initiative is working with NIST to determine what standards to put in place to ensure interoperability, portability, and security, and to prevent vendor lock-in.

>> Procurement: Kundra wants to make sure state and local governments can also leverage centralized procurements.

>> Governance: There will be a "cloud first" policy: Every agency must evaluate a viable cloud solution first as part of the budget process. "You drive policy through budget," Kundra said.

Version 3.0 of the Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing is being developed in a controlled wiki format to simplify comment and collaboration. Updating will be carefully controlled by the CSA working groups. The guidance will have to reflect other major areas of research, particularly the Cloud Controls Matrix, which is designed to provide fundamental security principles to guide vendors and assist prospective customers in assessing vendors, and CloudAudit, which provides a common interface and namespace to allow providers to automate audit, assertion, assessment, and assurance of their Internet-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service environments.

CloudSIRT, which is in its early stages, will "enhance the capabilities of the cloud community to respond to vulnerabilities, threats, and incidents to preserve trust in cloud computing," said Ken Biery, professional services manager for security consulting at Verizon Business. The three core constituencies will be cloud service providers, telecommunications providers, and national CERT/CCs and ISACs.

The security-as-a-service working group will attempt to define what constitutes a security as a service offering and identify the categories, or "buckets," hosted services fall under. The initiative will focus heavily on education, training, and awareness.

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