hamburger icon close icon

Why Governments Are Finally Adopting the Cloud and What It Means

For quite some time, there were insurmountable barriers to cloud adoption for large, security-sensitive, and heavily regulated federal, healthcare, finance, and defense and aerospace governmental agencies. But that has all changed now that the cloud providers have addressed concerns and expanded their offerings.

As a Cloud Solution Architect at NetApp, I’ve seen this remarkable expansion firsthand while supporting customers in these sensitive sectors as they make their cloud adoption journeys.

In this article, I'll offer insight into this growing trend, highlight the special challenges for these organizations, and discuss recent advances in cloud technology that are making this all possible.

Read on to find out more, or use the links below to jump down to the individual sections:

Global Cloud Adoption Trends

Gartner predicts that global public cloud end-user spending will reach nearly $600 billion in 2023, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.7% from 2022. But while cloud adoption has grown dramatically worldwide over recent years, this growth hasn’t been consistent and there were several barriers that hindered broader adoption.

Government agencies, like other security-conscious organizations, were initially reluctant to adopt cloud technology. The general belief was that traditional on-premises setups provided more control and protection against cyber threats. Yet cyber risks continued to evolve, and on-prem environments proved not safer than the cloud. This realization, coupled with advancements in cloud services, has led more organizations to reconsider the stance against cloud adoption.

Past Barriers to Cloud Adoption in Strategic Sectors

Governments and organizations operating with sensitive data have historically encountered unique cloud adoption challenges. Some notable challenges concerning the techno-functional aspects of their operations included:

  • Dynamic threat landscape: With cyber threats constantly shifting in nature and becoming more stealth, sensitive industries faced difficulties in staying aware of new vulnerabilities and risks. Such organizations were also wary of the fact that cloud platforms increased an organization's attack surface.
  • Compliance requirements and frameworks: Regulated industries are required to abide by stringent compliance frameworks, such as HIPAA, GDPR, and FedRAMP. For government agencies to leverage the cloud, the cloud service providers (CSPs) had to align with the minimum security standards required by these regulations first.
  • Unauthorized access: Ensuring only authorized personnel have access to critical systems is more challenging in shared cloud environments.
  • Reduced visibility and control: Utilizing cloud services may lead to less visibility and control over IT infrastructure for organizations accustomed to managing on-prem data centers independently.
  • Unclear cloud exit requirements: Governmental organizations are frequently required to have documented exit strategies in instances of service or platform suspension/sunset. That requires intense planning towards data migration, contractual terms, and contingency planning.
  • Hardware managed by third parties: As hardware management typically falls under the scope of the cloud service provider (CSP), organizations retain limited or no control over its initial installation or physical access. In the case of a cyber attack, for example, there is no way to physically shut down the equipment at a moment’s notice.
  • Shared resources with other companies or cloud users: In multi-tenant cloud environments, shared resources among multiple clients may introduce security blind spots and performance issues.
  • Technical knowledge gaps: Adopting cloud technology often requires technical know-how that some organizations might lack. If this occurs, external expertise might need to be brought in or existing staff must undergo upskilling courses for cloud tech adoption to occur successfully.

Despite these challenges, recent advancements in cloud technology and a growing understanding of how to address these concerns have started to break down the barriers to cloud adoption in strategic sectors.

Wider Cloud Adoption Drivers in High-Security Sectors

Although sensitive sectors are mostly cautious of cloud adoption due to limited operating control, data sovereignty, and shared responsibility concerns, there are solutions available that can address these challenges.

  • Confidential computing: Leverages Trusted Execution Environments (TEE) to isolate applications, data, and code from their underlying infrastructure. That subsequently enables data to be encrypted while it is being processed, providing an additional layer of security and ensuring that sensitive data remains protected even in shared cloud environments.
  • Compliance certifications: Most CSPs now work closely with industry leaders to ensure compliance with regulatory frameworks through audits and certifications. These certifications also demonstrate a commitment to security, offering evidence that cloud services and resources are fully compliant with the strict regulatory requirements of their respective sectors.
    For example, AWS GovCloud, Azure Government Cloud, and Google all now offer services that align with the FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) standard, which is the starting point for all US government cloud usage.
  • Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs): CASBs act as intermediaries between cloud service users and cloud providers. CASBs offer visibility into how resources are distributed across cloud platforms and can pinpoint potential risks. That gives organizations a way to maintain security and control over IT resources while leveraging the cloud.
  • Advanced Encryption Standards (AES): Support for advanced encryption to secure data both at rest and in transit provides greater protection against cyber threats.
  • Secure enclaves: These isolated execution environments at the hardware-level that remain shielded from the rest of the system, providing an additional layer of protection to ensure that data remains protected from unauthorized access, even in instances when one part of the system is compromised.
  • Data protection tools: High availability (HA), disaster recovery (DR), backups, data locking, and ransomware protection tools ensure organizations' data remains safe, secure, and accessible in the event of hardware failures, natural disasters, or cyber threats.
  • MFA (multi-factor authentication) options: Enforcing multiple authentication factors gives the cloud a way to ensure only authorized users have access to sensitive data and systems.
  • Dark-site deployment: Some organizations host data that is so sensitive it can never be allowed internet access. Dark-site deployment options allow organizations to operate in highly secure, air-gapped, isolated cloud environments with no internet exposure, and highly restricted accessibility.
  • Advanced firewall configuration support: Advanced configuration that enables organizations to create customized security rules to protect their cloud resources.

The Continuous Cycle Driving Cloud Adoption in Sensitive Sectors

In addition to the adoption drivers covered above, I've had the opportunity to see the collaboration between cloud providers, technology vendors, and end users give rise to a self-reinforcing cycle of platform enhancement and adaptation.

The cycle works like this: As large, sensitive industries demand more robust and secure cloud services tailored to their specific requirements, cloud providers and technology vendors respond by developing advanced security and protection tools to meet those demands. As a result, these tools and services become more sophisticated, allowing more organizations with sensitive considerations to recognize the benefits and consider joining the cloud. In response to the growing adoption, CSPs and vendors continue to refine their offerings and solve other persistent cloud adoption challenges.

This ongoing cycle not only promotes broader cloud adoption but also drives organizations to constantly evolve and refine their services.

Case Studies: Cloud Adoption in High-Security Industries

Governmental organizations, once hesitant to migrate due to security concerns, have started to adopt the cloud to enhance their operations and streamline processes.

I’ve had the chance to partner with a number of customers across various high-security sectors to assist them with navigating through the cloud transformation journey with the help of NetApp’s ONTAP-based cloud storage solutions.

These services offer robust data management capabilities, high availability, enhanced storage security, granular access controls, efficient data replication, and disaster recovery solutions that have helped the agencies I’ve worked with overcome any remaining hesitancy about fully embracing the cloud.

Here are two stories where my team at NetApp worked closely with customers who were initially reluctant and unprepared to transition to the cloud.

A Globally Recognized Bank’s Cloud Adoption Journey

This prominent financial institution was apprehensive about adopting the cloud and what that would mean for its DevOps, containerization, and compliance challenges. They needed a solution that would not only address their security concerns, but also offer seamless integration and control. Utilizing NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, they gained advanced security and data protection capabilities while migrating their data seamlessly onto the cloud.

With Cloud Volumes ONTAP the company gained robust storage management capabilities and was able to overcome storage challenges and enhance overall system performance. The advanced encryption and data governance tools offered by NetApp ensured that their data remained secure, was protected with efficient backups, and able to be effectively managed in order to align with stringent regulatory requirements.

Just a few years ago, reaching this level of security and efficiency in the cloud wasn't possible. Thanks to NetApp’s advances in cloud technology, even organizations with the strictest security policies can now adopt cloud services with confidence.

Read more about this customer’s success story here.

Cloud Deployment in Military Operations

For organizations with highly classified data such as the military, the challenge of ensuring data security and maintaining network isolation is a top priority.

BlueXP's Private mode offers dark-site deployment to ensure that all data and permissions remain entirely contained within the closed network in the cloud while maintaining complete isolation from the internet. This is especially important as most modern military operations rely on advanced technologies and data-driven strategies that require the highest levels of security and privacy.

With BlueXP deployed in private mode, organizations can utilize Cloud Volumes ONTAP within their restricted cloud region, scan data with BlueXP classification, and protect it with BlueXP backup and recovery, all without any internet connectivity. This was previously unattainable just a few years ago, but advancements in cloud technology now enable even the most security-sensitive organizations to confidently embrace and benefit from cloud solutions without risking their data or operational efficiency.

Future Cloud Adoption Trends and Key Takeaways in High-Security Industries

Although security-sensitive sectors were initially hesitant to adopt cloud services, continuous innovation has led even the most security-sensitive organizations to confidently embrace and benefit from cloud solutions.

As data safety and integrity efforts improve, cloud adoption is expected to increase, especially in security-sensitive industries. Looking ahead, we can expect the continued growth of cloud adoption in public and highly sensitive sectors, driven by ongoing advancements in cloud technology.

At NetApp, we play a vital role in facilitating this migration, ensuring data safety and integrity while meeting stringent regulatory requirements. Our robust, secure, and compliant infrastructure is continuously tailored and optimized to the unique needs of high-security sectors. With an extensive portfolio of cloud services, including Cloud Volumes ONTAP, advanced data protection tools, and security features, we are prepared to cater to the specific demands of industries such as finance, healthcare, defense, and government with confidence.

The Cloud Is Finally Ready. Is Your Agency?

While security concerns were once the biggest barriers to cloud adoption in security-sensitive and highly regulated sectors, the trend is now changing.

With the continued investment in security by cloud providers and the availability of cloud-native security tools, more organizations are moving their sensitive data and workloads to the cloud with confidence.

NetApp is helping these agencies adopt the cloud with advanced features provided by BlueXP. The age of government cloud is just starting, and NetApp is ready to take that journey with you.

New call-to-action
Keren Trajtenberg, Cloud Solution Architect

Cloud Solution Architect