Google Glitch A Warning To Uncle Sam - InformationWeek
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5/15/2009
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John Foley
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Google Glitch A Warning To Uncle Sam

This week started with news that the U.S. government is ramping up plans to adopt cloud computing services. It ended with a post mortem on why Google's cloud went kaput for more than an hour on Thursday. Government IT managers should pay close attention to what went wrong at Google as they plot their cloud strategy.

This week started with news that the U.S. government is ramping up plans to adopt cloud computing services. It ended with a post mortem on why Google's cloud went kaput for more than an hour on Thursday. Government IT managers should pay close attention to what went wrong at Google as they plot their cloud strategy.Several developments this week underscored the feds' growing interest in cloud computing. There was discussion of plans for cloud computing in the government's proposed $75.8 billion IT budget for fiscal 2010. The General Service Administration issued a request for information on infrastructure as a service. There's now a federal cloud CTO in Washington. In short, all signs are pointing toward increased adoption of cloud services in government.

It's ironic, notable, and perhaps even ominous that Google's service should suffer a major disruption at just this time. One of federal CIO Vivek Kundra's claims to fame is that he was an early adopter of Google Apps while CTO for the District of Columbia, where he arranged for 30,000 city employees and contractors to have access to Gmail, Google Docs, and other Google applications.

The State Department already uses the Google MAPS API for an interactive map that shows where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling. The Department of Homeland Security, in an application for its internal use, mashes geospatial data with Google Earth. And the administration used Google Moderator to power President Obama's Open for Questions application.

Let's say that more government agencies and users sign on to Google services and that the applications they're using become increasingly central to the business of government. What happens the next time Google's cloud goes up in smoke? At what point do inconveniences become disruptions to government services, or worse, national security risks? This isn't just a Google issue, by the way. The same questions apply to other cloud service providers.

Earlier in the week, prior to Google's glitch, my colleague Nick Hoover talked to David Mihalchick, manager of Google's federal business development team, about government adoption of Google services. Mihalchick acknowledged that government managers aren't yet fully accepting of the cloud model. "There are some perceptions within government about cloud computing that are sometimes just perceptions," Mihalchick said. "When we actually talk about our security processes, or our SLA that provides guarantees for uptime, there's much more of a guarantee or understanding that's created."

On the other hand, some perceptions are based in reality, and the reality is that cloud services fail. It doesn't mean that government agencies should avoid cloud services entirely; but it does mean that they should plan and proceed accordingly.

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