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5/6/2010
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John Foley
John Foley
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Cloud Learning Curve Is Steep For Uncle Sam

The federal government's cloud computing strategy has hit a "snag," reports the Wall Street Journal. That's noteworthy but not surprising, and you can bet there will be more glitches along the way.

The federal government's cloud computing strategy has hit a "snag," reports the Wall Street Journal. That's noteworthy but not surprising, and you can bet there will be more glitches along the way.The feds are on a learning curve with cloud computing, and that curve is steeper than for most new technologies. Oh sure, the cloud is easy to use, and on-demand scalability is only a few mouse clicks away. But things aren't moving that fast because federal agencies need to assess security and other governance issues related to cloud apps and, as the Journal points out, work through licensing terms.

According to the Journal, only 170 "transactions" have been completed on GSA's Apps.gov site, which was unveiled with great fanfare nine months ago by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra as a one-stop shop for cloud services. InformationWeek reported in March that most people visiting Apps.gov go there to research cloud services rather than buy them.

Part of the problem is that Apps.gov doesn't yet offer pay-by-the-hour servers and storage (i.e. infrastructure as a service), and GSA had to revise the related RFQ to put greater emphasis on security. Apps.gov lists cloud storage, virtualized servers, and other infrastructure services as "coming soon."

It's obvious that federal agencies are still in the early stages of adoption, but all arrows point to increased use of cloud services. Here are a few data points from a just-completed InformationWeek Analytics survey of government IT pros:

--44% plan to begin using cloud services over the next 24 months.

--74% are "highly likely" or "somewhat likely" to use cloud services from a portal such as Apps.gov.

So, while it's true that Apps.gov hasn't gotten off to the fast start that some may have expected, that's not necessarily a sign of trouble. It more likely that the government's cloud service providers (GSA, DISA, NASA, and vendors such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) are still putting the pieces in place, and that the government agencies and departments that plan to use cloud services are still doing their homework. "This is not an overnight process," federal CIO Vivek Kundra says in the Journal article.

Indeed, in addition InformationWeek's survey results, anecdotal evidence suggests that government demand for cloud services is growing. Terremark recently announced a $45 million expansion of its northern Virginia data center, citing its growing cloud business in government accounts. And NASA is expanding its Nebula cloud to more sites and plans to offer Nebula cloud services via Apps.gov.

InformationWeek has just published the first report in a four-part series aimed at helping government IT managers get started on the path to cloud computing. You can download the report, "The Business Case for Government Clouds," here. (It's free, but registration required.)

Federal IT pros can also learn more by signing up for our May 19 Webcast or by attending in person Making The Private Cloud Real, an HP-Intel event on June 9 in Washington, D.C., where I will be moderating a session titled "Strategies for Creating an Internal Cloud." My panel will include Goddard Space Flight Center's cloud computing project leader and other leading experts from the federal sector, so be sure to sign up.



InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on cloud computing and service-level agreements. Download the report here (registration required).

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