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Is Cloud a Natural Fit For the Government?

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In doing my reading for the Forum, about twenty percent of all of my Google Alerts this morning referenced the government and cloud.  So is cloud a natural fit for the government, and what unique challenges does the government face in moving to the cloud?

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  • Elements like potential cost savings and data centricity are positive elements, but big factors that must be overcome in order to see greater “federal consumptionâ€? will be robust security, availability (approaching five 9’s), and DR. Perhaps a more likely scenario, especially given the sensitivity of the data, will be “private cloudâ€? structures.

  • I would have to say the sensitivity of data and peoples "rights" will mean that private clouds are pretty much the only realistic option open to Government...Thats not a bad thing....

  • Cloud computing is penetrating all levels of the U.S. government. The Obama administration has been a big proponent of cloud computing. It launched Apps.gov a year ago to educate and offer SaaS and IaaS alternatives to various government agencies. Just last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a freeze on approximately 30 major projects valued at $3 billion annually so they could be considered for cloud computing alternatives, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/blog/10/06/28/Cutting-Waste-by-Reforming-IT/. Various states are also following suit. And, many cities are adopting Google Apps and other cloud-based alternatives to reduce their operating expenses and improve their operations. The most notorious example is the City of LA.

  • Interesting. At first glance, the answer would seem to be “Yes.â€? Given compliance with all the issues that we have talked about through previous blogs (e.g., security, continuity, etc.), the Government could also receive potential “financial benefitsâ€? promised through this type of outsourcing. But there is a problem.

    The government isn’t profit driven and, for the most part, cost is rarely a key factor in their decision making on information technology. In moving to the cloud, the government would apparently also give up control to a third party, right? As such, government agencies in the past could, and would, build out their own private cloud of scalable computing resources on demand. As proven over the last 245 yrs, government programs get bigger, more expensive, and take more control; they do not get smaller, cheaper, and effective. This is an apparent contradiction in logic, so we must not be asking the right question, yet.

    The real question seems to be, “What does the Government have to benefit in using Cloud Computing?� Since they are moving to cloud computing and cost and control are not drivers, then what longer term gains do they plan on achieving? Answer this question, then true nature answer to the question “Is Cloud a Natural Fit For The Government� will be revealed.

  • The Cloud is a natural fit. The Government owns a huge amount of IT and employs a large number of IT people to support it.
    Federal, state and local government would share the Cloud(s).

    IaaS and SaaS centers would enable technology and location transparency, on demand dynamic scaling and greatly reduced costs.
    The Cloud would enable the government to focus on public services and reduce IT costs to benefit everyone.
    After all, the larger the scale, the fitter the Cloud solution is in reducing the number of applications, licenses, servers, storage, networks, PCs... and government staff.

    It's just of matter of when rather than if.

  • An excellent question that has been matched with an equally thought-provoking discussion so far!

    I think I've covered a great deal of this in my first and third podcasts on Cloud Computing within the Federal Government (was this a shameless plug?)

    I agree with Dr. Smith that the government is not a profit-driven business but cost is still an issue with balooning deficits, many competing initiatives and programs for tax dollars, and our energy independence at stake with close to a billion dollar energy bill each year just for operating the government run data centers! OMB mandates and the president's budget leave no doubt that each agency is being asked to become more efficient and lower costs.

    Control (privacy, security of information assets, compliance with regulations, etc.) is also a valid concern, which, as Anthony pointed out, could be addressed by so called "private" clouds. Such clouds already exist such as with the National Business Center's cloud, DISA's RACE, and NASA's Nebula.

    So do I believe that there is a good fit between Government and Clouds?

    Absolutely!

  • Since the smart guys got to this before me and have all hit the nail on the head so far, I'll take this in another direction and paraphrase Dr. Strangelove - not only is the cloud a fit for government, it is essential. Let's look at the cloud from the perspective of "blowing up" old technology and information delivery models, and rearranging the pieces in a way that provides the greatest value to citizens.

    When I look at the cloud from a private sector perspective, I don't even pay attention to the public vs. private cloud argument, cost savings models, or incremental gains in efficiencies - I look at the cloud as providing new ways of doing business and connecting with customers. The value of being able to do things in new ways is one thing, but the value of being able to do new things altogether is what really captures my imagination.

    So let's apply this concept of new ways of doing business to the government. I don't think that the real benefits of the cloud are going to come from simply realizing incremental cost savings through infrastructure replacement, as the political wrangling around security, privacy, etc. will draw that discussion out for decades. I see three immediate opportunities for the cloud to make a wretchedly dysfunctional system better:

    1. Transparency, access, and contextualizing. We're taking, as Dr. Jerry points out, 245 years of bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy and trying to find keyhole for 300 million + people to peer through so that we can get some glimpse of how our government works...and we're relying on, of all things, government agencies and departments to disseminate information through byzantine Web 1.0 technologies like websites and PDF's. This is where the cloud could have an immediate impact on our ability to monitor what our government is doing - take the information that's made available to the public, organize it in a manner that's useful, front-end it all with both human-readable and machine-readable interfaces, and allow entrepreneurial constituents to turn that raw stream of data into something contextually meaningful. And conversely, reverse that process so that our lawmakers have the ability to process information in a rapid and contextually meaningful way so that they can make more informed decisions and understand how their actions impact the bigger picture.

    2. Real time polling. We saw a sneak peek of this when Facebook toyed with polls at Davos last year, why couldn't we leverage the cloud to collect real-time data from constituents on everything from reaction to proposed legislation, to job approval ratings?

    3. Integration. Next year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and we're still experiencing huge gaps in sharing information across agencies, states, and other geographic / bureaucratic boundaries. Assuming it would take multi-decade project cycles to replace or upgrade the information systems that are in place today, how much would new cloud-based integration tools ease the systems integration processes? And since anything resembling SOA wouldn't take root until my grandchildren were old enough to vote, this is something that could be used at the periphery to begin to remove friction one data point at a time while the big picture slog happens in the background.

    At the end of the day, nothing is going to fix Washington. But by applying cloud technologies and principles wherever there's an opportunity, perhaps we can start to actually influence change rather than just listen to politicians bloviate about it ad nauseam.

  • Hey all, good conversation. Agree with Adrian that first you need to define the buzzword cloud -- SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. IaaS is the biggest leap for govies and where private clouds will probably rule, as Andrew points out.

    And since I'm a newbie, how about I offer something. One of my clients just sponsored a paper on cloud provider performance, conducted by Bitcurrent. I can share a copy with anyone who asks. Just check out my blog at http://bit.ly/bX08df and drop me a comment, I'll send you the .pdf. Not fed specific, but really interesting.

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