Government’s Gone Cloud

This is a guest post by John Willis and Curtis Hill of Zabovo  John runs the AWSome Cloud Computing meetup group which the ATDC is proud to host.  Today John is speaking at the Military Open Source Software Conference at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. This article is based on his presentation. 

Last week the first sentence of an article in the InformationWeek periodical specifically targeted at IT employees of the U.S. Government read as follows:

‘The General Services Administration has issued a Request For Quotation for cloud storage, Web hosting, and virtual machine services.’

This dry and seemingly innocent statement is in reality a blockbuster, a headliner worthy of amazement possibly and further investigation surely.  Any computer industry veteran with federal government dealings will tell you the phrase ‘U.S. government technology innovation’ is an oxymoron (with the notable exceptions of the DOD and NASA).  And now – low and behold! – the stodgiest of the stodgy is rapidly moving (that’s correct – rapidly) past all but the most innovative organizations in the world into the era of cloud computing!  I’ll throw in a few cloud basics in a minute but just for those who aren’t ‘in on’ the cloud computing debate many still question whether cloud computing is a transformational advance in computing as many others claim or just a horribly overblown catch phrase meaning little.   The InformationWeek statement is a really big nail in the coffin of the catch phrase camp.   It’s not the first and it won’t be the last.

Why the sudden change after years of being exactly the slow moving inefficient bureaucracy all small government proponents complain about.  Surely even the victory of a candidate who campaigned on upgrading the nation’s technology infrastructure could not have caused such a swift change in culture in 7 months.  Maybe this technology innovation is too compelling to ignore even for this historically laggard organization.  Maybe both.  Neither seems likely but here we have it.

Let’s look at a few basic definitions to make sure everybody is on the same page.  To follow the theme I will take this information from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three delivery models, and four deployment models.

  • Essential characteristics:
  • On-demand self-service
  • Ubiquitous network access
  • Location independent resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service
  • Delivery models:
  • Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) – Use provider’s applications over a network
  • Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) – Deploy customer-created applications to a cloud
  • Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – Rent processing, storage, network capacity, and other fundamental computing resources
  • Deployment  models:
  • Private cloud – enterprise owned or leased
  • Community cloud – shared infrastructure for specific community
  • Public cloud – Sold to the public, mega-scale infrastructure
  • Hybrid cloud – Composition of two or more clouds

Private enterprise is still trying to achieve a collective understanding of cloud computing and its value if any.  Many continue to argue over the viability of clouds for any but a few unique applications (massive data, map/reduce, etc.), claiming obstacles ranging from security to audit ability to performance.   After investigating these issues for many months, NIST has moved past these arguments and published a very mature definition of cloud computing, and an even more mature document on how to efficiently and securely implement a cloud computing environment.   The document examines each advantage and each challenge presented by cloud computing.  NIST sees the huge advantages many others see but they have also taken a hard look at the challenges and they view them as difficult but solvable.  NIST is even helping drive some of the standards in area such as security.

In another fascinating development a fellow by the name of Vivek Kundra was tapped by Obama as the Nation’s first Chief Information Officer.  Before taking the federal CIO role Kundra was the CIO for the city of Washington, D. C.   The punch line?  In less than two years Kundra moved the city to Google Apps replacing Microsoft Office software with Google’s SaaS offering.  The city now posts their procurement process on You Tube.  Kundra launched the ‘Apps For Democracy’ WEB 2.0 style collaboration contest in hopes of giving citizens a portal into such government information as crime reports and pothole repair schedules .   Kundra expected maybe 10 apps and got 47 in 30 days.  This endeavor saved the city ~$2.6M even after the $50K prize money was paid.  Kundra works by the mantra that citizens are "co-creators rather than subjects."   This 34 year old Gen-Xer is now in charge of information technology for the whole government!  Looks like this may no longer be your grandfather’s federal government – at least in IT.

All of the primary cloud vendors have stepped up their efforts to sell this latest technology to the government since they too see the sleeping giant awakening.   Companies like Amazon and Google who had done little business with the government in the past are now pushing the adoption of their cloud based technologies in all parts of the government., possibly the most successful SaaS, has also sold its software to several branches of the government.   The DOD and NASA have both adopted elements of cloud computing.  NASA uses and the open source cloud software Eucalyptus.  DOD is very actively promoting cloud computing internally.

The most innovative companies in the world today have provided the missing pieces needed to launch cloud computing as the NEXT BIG THING.  Even the traditionally sloth like U. S. government is on board.  To be sure, many of the truly transformational changes cloud computing will drive won’t be possible until the various technologies collectively dubbed ‘cloud computing’ mature even further.  Additional innovations (some already envisioned, some not) such as better security, improved virtualization management and real cloud interoperability are needed to speed cloud adoption rates.  Nonetheless, cloud computing is a transformational advance in technology on the level of the worldwide web or PC’s – or even bigger.  If you don’t agree and you are a CIO you should look for a career ‘Plan B’.      

August 12, 2009  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Computing, Open Source, Presentations