Which cloud services are you eyeing?

E-mail has been a popular choice among early public cloud adopters, so what's next?

E-mail is the hands-down winner for the most popular high profile cloud application that government agencies are moving to first. The General Services Administration, Agriculture Department, Interior Department, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California and Wyoming, and New York City and Los Angeles are among the government entities and jurisdictions that have already moved or will move their internally hosted electronic messaging systems to a commercial cloud e-mail service.

Experts whom I talked to for a story on cloud adoption trends expect this pattern to continue, as e-mail represents a prime opportunity for tapping the benefits of a commercial cloud service.

Most agencies wrestle with managing multiple legacy e-mail systems that are usually expensive to maintain and incompatible with one another. That situation affects the productivity of the IT department and agency end users. Moving to a single enterprise-wide e-mail system makes a lot of sense. And the commercial cloud providers are adequately dealing with security and reliability concerns to enable government to make the move.

So what do you think the next hot cloud application will be? What cloud services is your agency most interested in adopting first and why? You can post your comments below.

Also, which types of cloud services do you think should be the easiest to adopt, relatively speaking? Alternatively, which cloud services will provide the most benefits or biggest payback to your agency, even though they may not be the easiest or quickest to adopt?

Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, expects some other software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications to follow e-mail as lead targets for early cloud adoption. The universality of certain applications across government creates an opportunity for cloud vendors to create standard services that can meet most agencies’ needs, he said.

Like e-mail, human resources systems, document management and certain types of financial transactions all tend to be common functions that can be standardized and potentially moved to a more cost-effective cloud model, McCarthy said.

In the category of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), he said cloud storage services show strong early promise.

But even these applications are not slam dunks for the cloud at every agency. For example, existing in-house e-mail systems are sometimes integrated with other applications such as case management, contact management or systems that track legal document delivery. That kind of integration can make a move to the cloud more complicated, McCarthy said.

Other factors related to the different characteristics of government agency’s also influence whether they use the cloud and which style of cloud applications they choose, said Greg Potter, a research analyst at In-Stat and author of a recent report about the commercial or public cloud market.

According to his research, small cities and counties, just like small businesses, lead in the adoption of public cloud services, because these organizations traditionally outsource their IT needs more often than larger government enterprises.

Also, SaaS accounts for more than half of the $130 million government spent on public cloud services in 2010, Potter found. Government spending on IaaS in 2010 was roughly $40 million and only $18 million for platform-as-a-service. He estimates the government spending on public cloud services will increase to $275 million by 2014.

Potter is starting some research on private clouds, in which organizations build their own cloud-based services for internal use. This approach eliminates the data security and control concerns many organizations have about using commercial public cloud services.

Potter expects to find that government spending on private clouds will be significantly higher than that on public cloud services. Moreover, he expects the profile of who’s spending most on private clouds to flip, whereby the majority of that spending will be by large- and medium-sized government entities, those who traditionally have had the resources to take care of their own IT needs.