Federal Cloud Crucial To Economy, Tech Chiefs Say

Tech experts tell House subcommittee that federal cloud adoption affects U.S. competitiveness in a global economy. But security disagreements remain.
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The federal government's adoption of cloud computing is not merely critical to technology innovation, but also is crucial to ensure that the United States can remain economically competitive across the globe, technology experts said Wednesday.

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, a panel of experts from the public and private sector described a scenario in which U.S. competitiveness hinges on adopting the emerging IP-based technology model for how data and services are shared, allocated, and commoditized across networks.

"The cloud is the foundation of the 21st century digital economy," said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Technology Policy Group, adding that the United States is currently in the global lead for cloud adoption, a race "that's ours to lose."

Indeed, industry veteran Michael Capellas, currently chairman and CEO of the Virtual Computing Environment Company and co-chair of industry group TechAmerica's cloud computing commission, said that "cloud computing has the potential to shift the landscape and shift the wealth between nations" because of its potential for on-demand and centralized service delivery.

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Still, even as the panelists--who also included Nick Combs, federal CTO for EMC and David McClure, associate administrator for the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies--agreed that the feds must continue to adopt the cloud at a rapid pace, they disagreed on security, a key aspect of the cloud that in the past has been a stumbling block to its adoption.

Panelists tried to clear up common misconceptions about the security of the cloud, and Capellas went so far as to say that cloud computing will even make systems more secure because data can be centrally stored rather than spread out across different physical systems that are vulnerable to attack.

"The cloud when properly designed allows you to offset denial of services [because] central storage of data is far more reliable," he said.

EMC's Combs also cited the security benefits of a cloud that can replace the "broken safety net" of traditional architectures of disparate IT systems and allow for more "risk-based" decisions to be made.

Still, the GSA's McClure insisted that there are key "baseline security standards" that have not been decided upon yet but that eventually cloud service providers should support to make the cloud more secure in the long run.

"We still must pay attention to the inherent risks associated with its uses," he said, adding that the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is actively working to create and maintain standards to mitigate risk.

In addition to security, NIST is also working on data portability and interoperability standards that will be crucial to the success of federal and private-sector adoption of the cloud, McClure said.

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