U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) on a recent tour of Geekdom. Photo by Scott Ball.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) on a recent tour of Geekdom. Photo by Scott Ball.

What do Amazon’s chief web architect, a U.S. Homeland Security network director, the Rackspace chief technology officer, and UTSA’s vice president for research have in common? All four are key witnesses who will testify at a field briefing on “The State of the Cloud” before a Congressional subcommittee at UTSA’s main campus on Tuesday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Information Technology Subcommittee is convening here for the field briefing to underscore the importance of the cloud’s rapid development and the critical importance of cloud security as the federal government, private sector companies and just about everyone else contemplates a move from in-house data storage and management to cloud service providers such as Rackspace and Amazon.

The federal government declared its commitment to migrating agency data to the cloud five years ago, but relatively little has been done. Cloud service providers estimate that 75% of all private sector companies still manage data in-house, a reflection of the age of top executives and how little understanding they have of data storage and protection.

“It’s not unlike the days when people kept their money under the mattress rather than entrust it to a bank because they thought it would be safer,” one cloud company executive told the Rivard Report.

Many people in positions of responsibility at companies ranging from Fortune 500 size down to medium and smaller companies simply do not understand the cloud, its origins, reasons for existence, or how it works. Click here to read a basic Amazon primer about the cloud.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee, and the ranking Democrat, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois), will conduct the field briefing.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois)
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois)

The field briefing takes place Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the H-E-B University Center on the UTSA main campus. The hearing is free and open to the public. Afterwards, a delegation that will include Reps. Hurd and Kelly, industry executives and others will tour Rackspace headquarters.

“This hearing is in San Antonio for a reason,” Rep.Hurd said. “I don’t think people realize that outside the Washington Capital region, there are more cybersecurity professionals in San Antonio than anywhere else in the country, so it makes sense to have a hearing on the cloud in San Antonio. The city is home to Rackspace, one of the top cloud companies, and to UTSA’s Open Cloud Institute, a program that is now internationally recognized as the top program in this realm. Last but not least, this is my hometown and I want to showcase all that is happening here.”

The Open Cloud Institute launched earlier this year with $9 million, half of it from Rackspace Co-Founder and Chairman Graham Weston via his 80/20 Foundation, who said at the February launch, “We’ve all started something really important.” UTSA’s growing cybersecurity program is ranked number one in the nation, and is helping propel the university toward Tier One status as a research university.

Justin Gray works during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Photo by Scott Ball.
UTSA student Justin Gray (center) works with his team during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in April 2015. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The field briefing will happen at a key moment of debate at the highest levels in Washington over the growing cybersecurity threat from foreign governments and third-party actors, and the rising number of data system breaches occurring at government agencies, major corporations, and even smaller organizations with no evident global profile. Virtually every computer network and system is vulnerable and subject to attack. Those that have been hacked all were legacy, in-house systems where government agencies and private sector companies are still managing their own data rather than relying on cloud service providers who have far more elaborate security systems and trained personnel in place.

“The attacks are only getting more sophisticated and more brazen, it’s an area where a micro player can have a macro impact,” Hurd said. “It’s state sponsored actors, and it’s others, too, such as organized crime syndicates operating overseas. Cyber espionage is just as bad as cyber theft. We have to become more mindful of protecting our information. I think more and more large businesses understand it, but it’s the small and medium businesses that are still learning to recognize they can be the target.”

Congressman Will Hurd speaks with a member of the U.S. Military. Courtesy photo.
Congressman Will Hurd speaks with a member of the U.S. Military. Courtesy photo.

A New York Times story published Tuesday underscored the consternation inside the White House over the cyber threat from Chinese and Iranian government backed hackers. The heightened tensions over such breaches has intensified ahead of next week’s state visit of President Xi Jinping of China, who will arrive in Washington two days after Hurd’s subcommittee field briefing in San Antonio.

An excerpt from the Times article:

“Offense is moving a lot faster than defense,” Mr. Obama told troops on Friday at Fort Meade, Md., home of the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command. Tuesday’s field briefing aims to put more of a public spotlight on the financial and technological benefits of cloud computing, while also considering the cybersecurity aspects that arise as more and more data storage moves to the cloud, and how agencies are managing the transition from legacy information technology operations to cloud service providers.

Two key operations within that Cyber Command are the 24th and 25th Air Force housed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Director of Solutions Architecture and Chief Architect for Amazon Web Services Mark Ryland
Mark Ryland

With John Engates, the chief technology officer for Rackspace, and Mark Ryland, the director of solutions architecture and chief architect for Amazon Web Services, both scheduled to testify in San Antonio, the public will hear how two of the world’s biggest cloud service providers are managing the rapid development of the cloud and securing the growing volume of data on the cloud. Both will probably focus on why most organizations, be they public or private sector, would save significant money and become far more secure if they would transition from legacy in-house IT operations to a cloud service provider.

“The members of this subcommittee are interested in hearing how the federal government can get the same benefits that smart companies achieve by using cloud computing,” Engates said. “I look forward to talking with them about how they can save money for taxpayers, give them websites that work, and better protect their data from hackers.”

John Engates
John Engates

Hurd said the field briefing would give San Antonio’s government and business leadership a better understanding of the cloud and serve as a wake-up call on the security challenge. The event also will help people better understand that San Antonio is an increasingly important cybersecurity center and more needs to be done to encourage and support continued growth.

“It’s important to bring Amazon to San Antonio to see the resources and capabilities we have here,” Hurd said. “There are 200 different cybersecurity-related companies here now. We will get the chance to take them around and see some of the key installations and companies here.”

The hearing also will be an acknowledgment that UTSA has propelled itself into a national leadership position in the sector. Mauli Agrawal, UTSA’s vice president for research and the driving force behind the university’s cybersecurity and cloud growth, is one of the key witnesses scheduled to testify Tuesday.

Dr. Mauli Agrawal
UTSA Vice President of Research Mauli Agrawal

“It’s not quite clear how the cloud will evolve, there is a lot of R&D that needs to be done to make the cloud available to everyone,” Agrawal said in an interview. “The cloud is a market disrupter, as a big a disrupter as the personal computer was in the 1980s.

“Whole business models will change because there will be much greater focus on data services,” Agrawal said. “Right now, the cloud is not technologically optimized for high performance computing, but eventually what runs on super computers today will run on the cloud. There is an enormous amount of software and hardware development to be done, and UTSA with its Open Cloud Institute and cybersecurity programs aims to be the university that will provide the smart workers the industry will desperately need. There is going to be a huge shortage of skilled programmers and others as more and more entities migrate to the cloud, a worker shortage that is going to grow exponentially.”

Security, however, remains paramount, and even as major data breaches occur at agencies and corporations managing their own data, there is a huge reluctance among many to entrust third-party cloud service providers with that responsibility. It’s going to take a lot of education.

Director of U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Network Resilience Mark Kneidinger.
Director of U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Network Resilience Mark Kneidinger.

That slow shift in confidence probably will be best expressed by the testimony of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Mark Kneidinger, the director of the Federal Network Resilience in the Office of Cybersecurity & Communications. His department is responsible for overseeing the safe and secure migration of federal agencies to the cloud. At this juncture, few federal agencies have embraced the initiative.

“Security is a huge deal, we’ve seen all the breaches, and when you put something on the cloud you have information leaving your premises and someone else is storing it,” Kneidinger said Thursday. “Federal agencies and the security agencies themselves are migrating data to the cloud, so it’s a major national security concern and challenge.

“I want to talk about some of the drivers that have led the federal government to migration to the cloud, going back to policies laid out in 2010 and going forward. We’ll talk about lessons learned in both contracting and security. What are the roles between a federal agency and a cloud service provider? How do we ensure accountability and that government assets in the cloud are secured? And I’ll move into our current space and where the government is in terms of the migration and the primary focuses. Looking forward, we’ll talk about higher value assets and mission critical operations and moving those on to the Cloud.”

For San Antonio, Hurd’s hearing will be an opportunity to showcase the city’s growing tech security sector and to hear from players who most often only speak publicly about such matters in Washington D.C.

*Top image: U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)  on a recent tour of Geekdom. Photo by Scott Ball.

Related Stories:

SA Chamber Takes Lead on Growing Cybersecurity Sector

Cong. Hurd: Cleaning Up the Federal Cyber Debacle

UTSA’s Cybersecurity Program Attracting Attention

Open Cloud Institute Launches at UTSA With $9 Million Investment

Hurd Sees Cybersecurity Creating a Smarter City

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.