The movement to the cloud is a one-way street.”

– Vivek Kundra, Federal Chief Information Officer

The U.S. Government is on the brink of a major shift to cloud computing. Like the private sector, the Government has realized that cloud computing can dramatically reduce IT costs while significantly improving performance and accelerating innovation. Based on case studies, The Brookings Institution determined that federal, state and local governments realized significant cost savings associated with various cloud computing migrations.  It was estimated overall savings (from infrastructure, labor and energy costs to name a few areas) “generally average between 25 and 50 percent”. [1] Every major analyst firm believes that cloud computing will expand its share of the overall IT market, with Goldman Sachs going so far as to say that the shift to cloud services and solutions is “unstoppable.”[2]  Data center consolidation is an important driver for the adoption of cloud computing services and solutions in the public sector.  The U.S. Federal Government alone has plans to eliminate 800 data centers by 2015, with 373 to be shut down by the end of 2012.[3]

To spur government agencies to take advantage of the benefits that cloud computing enables, the Obama Administration has issued a Cloud First policy. This Buyer’s Guide is designed to assist government agencies as they evaluate and purchase cloud services and solutions in response to that policy. The main requirements of the Cloud First policy are excerpted below.[4]

  • Beginning immediately, the Federal Government will shift to a Cloud First strategy.
  • When evaluating options for new IT deployments, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will require that agencies default to cloud-based solutions whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists.
  • These new cloud implementations should be compatible with the secure, certified platforms currently provided in the private sector.
  • Migrating these services will build capabilities and momentum in the Federal Government, encourage industry to more rapidly develop appropriate cloud solutions for government, and reduce operating costs.
  • Each agency chief information officer (CIO) will be required to identify three “must move” services and create a project plan for migrating each of them to cloud solutions and retiring the associated legacy systems. Of the three, at least one of the services must fully migrate to a cloud solution within 12 months and the remaining two within 18 months.



To comply with the Cloud First policy, Federal agencies must carefully evaluate cloud computing services and solutions to determine which ones meet their needs and then move to implement them where appropriate. Cloud First is an opportunity for government to build on the benefits that consumers and businesses have realized from cloud computing and to deploy new technologies with the goal of significantly improving the efficiency of governmental operations and the public services it offers. Although the shift to cloud computing raises new issues that must be considered, existing Federal government procurement practices are flexible enough to enable acquisition of the new capabilities. Listed below is a series of best practices for government agencies interested in adopting cloud computing.

  1. Begin with a business case that defines requirements and performance objectives.
  2. Map agency priorities.
  3. Understand the security requirements.
  4. Consider how the cloud service will be implemented by your agency.
  5. Outline mission requirements in an RFP.
  6. Take advantage of government-wide cloud initiatives.
  7. Look beyond technology hype claims to include people and process in decision making.
  8. Leverage a common service measurement framework to evaluate providers.
  9. Understand timing and triggers for considering cloud deployment.


II. Best Practices

We have categorized best practices for government cloud services procurement across six different functions: (1) acquisitions managers, (2) program managers, (3) chief financial officers, (4) chief information officers/chief information security officers, (5) chief human capital officers and (6) agency leadership. There is some overlap across these functions, and we have tried to highlight issues that are especially relevant to each one.

  1. Acquisition Manager
  2. Program Manager
  3. Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  4. Chief Information Officer/Chief Information Security Officer (CIO/CISO)
  5. Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO)
  6. Agency Leadership (Assistant Secretary, COO)



[1] Darrell West, Saving Money Through Cloud Computing (Brookings Institution, May 2010).

[2] Goldman Sachs, SaaS Survey, February 2010.

[3] For further information, please see

[4] Excerpted from the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management, Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer, December 9, 2010, The White House, pp. 6 – 7.