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9/24/2009
11:30 AM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: The Industry-Specific Cloud

Amazon's Vogels reinforced the notion that one size probably won't fit all when it comes to cloud computing.

The recent InformationWeek 500 Conference had an amazing lineup of speakers, among them Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon.com, and the federal CIO, Vivek Kundra. These two speakers were particularly interesting to me: Kundra because he sees a cloud infrastructure as critical to the federal government, and Vogels because of the leadership position Amazon has staked in cloud computing. They convinced me that we have yet to see the most useful iteration of cloud computing: the industry-specific cloud.

For Kundra, the attraction to all things cloud is obvious. He's dealing with hundreds of agencies, all of which have grown independent IT infrastructures over the years. If he's to achieve the level of transparency, efficiency, and security that is his mandate, he'll get there by building one set (or just a few sets) of centralized services for use throughout the federal government rather than by trying to fix all those individual infrastructures.

While Kundra's need is pretty clear, the way to achieve his endgame isn't. Could he, for instance, use Vogel's cloud to meet his needs? As Kundra speaks, he talks mainly about building a purpose-specific federal cloud that can meet the needs of the vast array of agencies. And while he talks about the possibility of using off-the-shelf software for some purposes, he isn't thinking about building the government's cloud that way.

It's easy to dismiss that attitude as the typical D.C. bureaucratic mentality that wants everything custom built to government specs. But the reality is that Kundra faces the nearly impossible job of getting the federal agencies to voluntarily use his cloud and give up their own IT infrastructures. In a town where budget and budget authority equate to power and prestige, it's not going to be an easy sell. One deal killer will be any inability to meet whatever requirements Congress might dream up for data sharing, privacy, and security.

Although I don't think he meant to do it, Vogels reinforced this notion that one size probably won't fit all when it comes to cloud computing. Vogels is at heart a computer scientist, and when he talked about security, he described the VPN approach that Amazon now offers: "You set it up, you administer the accounts and policies--just like you would in your own data center." It sounds good in a presentation; too bad life isn't that simple. Security is checked through audits, and auditors look to see if you've complied with either industry regulations or best practices. Because you found a way to approach security doesn't mean that you're in compliance.

The last thing Vogels wants is to start twisting and turning the Amazon cloud into something that can meet the arcane requirements of every regulation. If the sensible approach Amazon has taken isn't good enough, then look for a different service. And it's my bet that you'll find one. Federal, state, finance, pharma--you name it and someday there will be a sector-specific cloud for it.

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