Gov 2.0: Cloud Computing As Government Panacea - InformationWeek

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9/10/2009
03:26 PM
John Foley
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Gov 2.0: Cloud Computing As Government Panacea

Two of the most influential people in the cloud computing market -- Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and General Services Administration CIO Casey Coleman -- talked today at the Gov 2.0 Summit about cloud computing's high potential as a cheaper, better way of delivering IT resources. Such enthusiasm, however, is tempered with lingering questions about security, interoperability, and organizational barriers.

Two of the most influential people in the cloud computing market -- Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and General Services Administration CIO Casey Coleman -- talked today at the Gov 2.0 Summit about cloud computing's high potential as a cheaper, better way of delivering IT resources. Such enthusiasm, however, is tempered with lingering questions about security, interoperability, and organizational barriers.Coleman is a force in cloud computing because GSA, as an IT service provider to other government agencies, wields considerable buying power. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has made it known that he's a proponent of the cloud model, which means GSA and other government agencies have a green light to pursue the cloud, and they seem to be doing just that.

GSA views cloud computing as potentially being a "faster, lower cost, more sustainable" (i.e. more energy efficient) model to running server farms in government data centers, Coleman said. She expects cloud services to "abstract" some of the complexity involved in managing IT systems, pushing more of the administrative tough stuff to cloud service providers. Vogels calls it the "undifferentiated heavy lifting" of running data centers, and he and Amazon are happy to take it upon themselves.

Yet, such discussions of cloud computing in government continue to be peppered with questions around security, interoperability, data governance, and organizational readiness, and in many cases clear answers don't yet exist. Tim O'Reilly, the moderator of the discussion, asked Coleman repeatedly about the challenges of cloud interoperability. "We're at the early stages of that conversation," Coleman admitted.

Another potential hang-up with the cloud model is its multitenant design. Federal agencies are better known for their data silos than for shared infrastructure. "There are barriers to sharing," Coleman conceded.

At one point during the discussion, someone in the audience asked Coleman about "rumors" of a private cloud being built by the Department of Interior. "A lot of government agencies refuse to go to the public cloud," he said, citing security as a major hurdle. Would a private cloud at Interior compete with public cloud services made available through GSA, the attendee asked.

Coleman answered by saying that there will be a variety of cloud types, including private clouds and (my word, not hers) quasi-private clouds that are outsourced yet located in government data centers. On the question of security, she floated the idea of "shared authority," in which GSA works with the National Institute of Standards and Technology on security standards and implementation.

All of which leads me to the observation that government agencies are moving fast into an area where fundamental issues have yet to be resolved. It may only take one data breach, major service outage, or other cloud mishap to slow things down.

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