U.S. Government Taps the Cloud to Fix IT Bureaucracy

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The U.S. government today unveiled a site that ushers the White House into the cloud computing era, called Apps.gov. The site allows federal agencies to peruse through a menu of software offerings from Google (s goog), Salesforce.com, (s CRM) Scribd, SlideShare and others, then select the application or services they’d like to buy. So far the true cloud computing services such as storage, virtual machines and web hosting are listed as coming soon.

Today Google also announced that it intends to build a government cloud in 2010 that will meet the standards set by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the law defining security requirements that must be met by all U.S. federal government information systems. Google has begun the process of certifying its Google Apps product under the law, but will now also seek to extend that certification to a separate yet-to-be-built government cloud within the Google facilities.

For the government, the biggest benefits of using some kind of cloud computing or platforms as a service appear to be the flexibility and modernity they offer. From the White House release announcing the creation of Apps.gov:

However, federal agencies and departments encounter many difficulties in deploying new IT services and products. Procurement processes can be confusing and time-consuming. Security procedures are complex, costly, lengthy and duplicative across agencies. Our policies lag behind new trends, causing unnecessary restrictions on the use of new technology. Past practices too often resulted in inefficient use of purchased IT capabilities across the federal government. We are dedicated to addressing these barriers and to improving the way government leverages new technology. Now, we can start to address some of these challenges by adopting the use of cloud computing in the federal government through Apps.gov.

That same flexibility is what leads many enterprise or security-conscious clients to try out cloud computing, despite worries over data leaks or reliability. It’s still to early to see how much government computing will end up in the cloud, although Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, said in his blog post on this news that the CIO of the General Service Administration, which is administering Apps.gov, estimates that it’s close to 45 percent. For companies selected as part of Apps.gov, 45 percent of the $75 billion spent each year on federal IT is nothing to turn away from.

4 Comments

Robert Ames

Apps.gov is yet another strong indication of the administrations focus on IT Optimization and the drive to faster innovation leveraging cloud computing. In effect, they are putting their money where their mouth is, and delivering initial capability quickly, instead of talking about it for years.

This is a positive first step in a roadmap towards cloud computing. I have always encouraged a phased approach in any migration of technology, and this initial release of apps.gov is indicative of that approach. The phased approach would test and prove the potential of the technology with lower risk applications that are well suited to cloud computing. If success is realized, the concepts and challenges of any migration would be well understood and could be applied to more secure or next level potential cloud applications.

One caution that I voice consistently is that potential cloud users carefully consider interoperability and open standards when considering a cloud provider. Cloud technologies are developing quickly; many with proprietary data models and interfaces. A successful move to a cloud application could be negatively impacted by proprietary vendor lock in if careful due diligence isn’t done prior to any hasty decisions.

Another strong consideration, echoing the concern paragraph above, is the relation of People, Process and Technology. All too often, it is easy to focus on a technology change without considering the impact it has on process and people. It is doubtless the cloud procurement models, the application development models, and the business processes, as well as security policies and practices to name a few will be impacted by cloud computing. Apps.gov goes a long way to make technology available, but it cannot help in those other important areas.

So applause for a bold move. I’m eager to see this play out in a positive direction.

Robert Ames
Director, and Deputy Chief Technology Officer
IBM Federal

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