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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.

The Obama Administration committed itself Tuesday to reducing federal computing costs by pursuing cloud computing, but its first steps appear tentative. The administration launched Apps.gov as a storefront where federal agencies may go to purchase on-demand applications from private vendors.

In its first iteration, federal computing in the cloud consists strictly of software-as-a-service applications or other Internet services.

The applications first available at Apps.gov Tuesday featured known social networking options such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. For customer relationship management, recruitment, and project management, Saleforce.com apps were prominent. Google Docs and other on-line apps were also available under the productivity applications category.

Exactly how cloud computing will evolve with support from the federal government remains up in the air, with many candidates still in play. In some forms, offsite cloud resources accept spikes in workloads normally run behind the organization's firewall. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra made it clear Tuesday that curtailing the constant buildout of federal data centers was one of his goals.

Kundra appeared at NASA'S Ames Research Center outside Mountain View, Calif. and acknowledged that initially, the government agency shopping portal is reaching for low hanging fruit. Private software as-a-service providers will eventually flock to Apps.gov and populate it with their products. But Apps.gov "is starting small," he said.

"We are just beginning this undertaking, and it will take time before we can realize the full potential of cloud computing," Jundra said in a blog posted Tuesday on the Whitehouse Web site.

"By consolidating available services, Apps.gov is a one-stop source for cloud services -- an innovation that not only can change how IT operates but also save taxpayer dollars in the process," Kundra said in the blog. In effect, the site is a demonstration that government procurement can proceed more efficiently in the cloud. The applications listed on the site have required -- and received -- General Services Administration approval.

To investigate the way private suppliers of cloud services can be substituted for building more government data centers, the administration will seek funding for pilot cloud projects in next year's budget. It will seek to set standards and policies to be able to begin implementing cloud services by 2011, Kundra said.

The goal of pilot projects will be to define what workloads might be offloaded from federal data center processing to the cloud, and what new services might be built as cloud services. The federal government spends $75 billion a year on IT budgets. In one example Kundra cited, Homeland Security has 23 data centers and needs to find a way to streamline and consolidate their operation.

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