When Cloud Computing Failed: Harris Corporation Steps Away From the Cloud

When Cloud Computing Failed: Harris Corporation Steps Away From the Cloud

Amidst all the news of cloud computing successes, the occasional cloud computing failure does draw attention. However, before we write off this incident as an aberration, it’s important to examine the context and reasons why a company that launched cloud computing services with much fanfare only a year ago is now closing down an expensive facility, incurring a loss in the process.

Harris Corporation, a Florida-based international communications equipment company that is one of the top Federal contractors, recently announced the intended closure of its cloud computing facility outside Washington, DC. The company said that running the 100,000 square feet facility was not feasible under current circumstances.

Now, here’s the interesting part. In an interview with Wired magazine, Harris Corporation acknowledges the presence of a strong market for cloud computing services in the commercial sector, but less so amidst government agencies. And considering that its facility was built specifically to target the public sector, from its location in Harrisonburg to ensuring that Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements were met, this may have been a deal-breaker.

Even as early as January, Harris Corporation CEO had indicated the company’s incompatibility with cloud computing. “Customers, both government and commercial, currently have a preference for on-premises versus off-premises solutions. Customers don’t place additional value on trust and are unwilling to move the most mission-critical applications to the cloud before less-sensitive applications are thoroughly tested and vetted in a cloud environment,” he had said during an earnings call.

However, this is only half right. It is evident that customers, at least commercial, are embracing cloud computing at an increasing rate. Almost every month, there is a new report coming out estimating increasingly larger sizes of the cloud computing market, and the investments IT enterprises like Oracle, Microsoft and IBM are making in this field is indicative of their expectations of returns.

Also, government agencies are not averse to going on the cloud. While the enthusiasm of the Vivek Kundra days may have cooled down a bit, the Cloud First policy has not been abandoned. However, it is true that government agencies do have concerns on security and cost (See: Does Moving to the Cloud work for the US Federal Government?), with some even deciding to ramp down earlier migration plans (See: LAPD Refuses To Go On the Cloud).

As a counter to Harris Corporation’s move, InformationWeek  says that “Amazon, Microsoft, and Terremark all offer cloud services to government and operate or plan to build data centers near Washington, D.C., and Google has been steadily adding government customers as well.” Also, several people from government have certified cloud computing to be safe, within limitation (See: US Cyber Command Chief Gives Cloud Computing Security His Vote of Confidence).

Now, there can be several reasons for Harris Corporation’s failure. Perhaps it was unable to convince its clients about the benefits of moving to the cloud, or perhaps its overdependence on government contracts was to blame. Also, there’s a possibility that one year is too short a time period to gauge performance, and Harris Corporation is being impatient to report failure. Whatever be the reason(s), present evidence gives no reason to doubt cloud computing’s popular appeal, even among government agencies.

By Sourya Biswas

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