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9/15/2009
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Government Steps Into The Cloud

In its first iteration, Apps.gov consists strictly of software-as-a-service applications or other Internet services.

While there is agreement on the general outline of cloud computing, security in the cloud needs to be better defined and implemented, Kundra said.

is often cited as a pioneer in cloud computing, where workloads may be sent from a remote location, activated in the cloud by the sender and the results of the processing retrieved. Users are charged on a $.10 per hour basis in its simplest form, with storage and database services also available.

Users who ship data to the cloud will need contractual guarantees that it will be maintained with the same level of security as it was in-house, but neither vendors nor users are sure yet how such guarantees can be made. The owner of the data remains responsible if it is lost or misused and it remains unclear how much of that responsibility, if any, can be shifted to a cloud supplier.

Kundra, however, spent most of his time listing the many potential benefit of cloud computing. Reducing the cost of government computing was at the top of the list, but reducing electricity consumption, gaining flexibility of data center operations, and speeding up government responses to citizen complaints, crises, and disasters, also earned rankings on his list.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, attended Kundra's briefing and said afterward that Google's search engine products were potential candidates to help in establishing federal cloud services. "Cloud is effective because of the power of the economies of scale," and services that can be used by thousands of federal employees, regardless of which data center usually serves them, will help Kundra achieve his aims, he said in an interview. Google's goal of making information available and useful fits in well with the notion of federal computing in the cloud, he added.

Winston Bumpus, president of a group attempting to set cloud standards, the Distributed Management Task Force, also attended the event. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is taking a role in setting cloud definitions and standards, which may guide the choices being made in pilot projects and initial funding, he noted in an interview.

Salesforce.com already offers software-as-a service to the State Department for project management, the U. S. Army for recruitment, and NASA for customer relationship management in technology transfer. Daniel Burton, Salesforce.com's government watchdog in Washington, called Apps.gov "a tremendous advance in streamlining government procurement," and predicted more such procurement sites were likely to follow.

"If you are a government agency interested in purchasing applications, you find a list approved by the GSA, put in an approved government purchasing card, and check out your shopping cart," he noted. Vivek Kundra and GSA CIO Casey Coleman are changing the federal government's complex methods of procurement faster than he thought possible, he said.


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