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The case for the government-based private cloud

By Bob Flores, E-Commerce Times

[The author of this article is Bob Flores, the former Chief Technology Officer for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Currently he’s a private government technology consultant with Applicology Inc., and a member of the board of directors of St. Louis-based cloud computing software maker Appistry.]


Hope was a slogan and a sentiment that played a major role in the US presidential election of 2008, and hope continues to be the mindset of technology advocates pushing for cloud computing in the public sector. As a former government employee with a long history in the intelligence field, I can easily see how cloud computing can contribute to the country’s security and prosperity.

With the support of the current administration, cloud computing’s future looks hopeful. In recent months, the Obama administration has made several decisions that indicate an aggressive move toward more effective IT enterprise management applications, including cloud computing.

Some milestones:

  • President Barack Obama made cloud computing initiatives a priority in his 2010 budget request, and the Army and Navy have already announced their own cloud initiatives.
  • Obama chose cloud-computing proponent Vivek Kundra as the federal chief information officer in his administration.
  • The Obama administration voiced its desire to adopt other emerging technologies, and has backed that up with budgetary information to support the concept.
  • Obama’s mandate to drive down federal IT spending and increase efficiency is made more substantial by the implementation of apps.gov, which functions as an online storefront for approved cloud computing applications.

I spent 31 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. While at the CIA, I held various positions in the Directorate of Intelligence, Directorate of Support, and the National Clandestine Service. I also spent three years as the CIO’s chief technology officer, overseeing the agency’s technology investments. I know firsthand the difficulty of delivering mission-critical applications via legacy data center architectures while maintaining a highly secure IT enterprise environment.

Since the government is dependent upon taxpayer dollars, the defense and intelligence fields must be as frugal as possible when considering infrastructure spending. Computing and organizing large amounts of data on a limited budget is a significant challenge for defense and intelligence agencies.

Cloud computing offers a solution to this problem by allowing the government to cut IT expenses while increasing scalability and improving data and applications management. However, the government sales cycles are slow and are resistant to major changes in infrastructure. Cloud computing hopes to break the Federal late adoption model and appears to be making headway, driven by the economic downturn and internal pressure to innovate.

As it does for private industry, cloud computing allows the government the use of massive shared storage areas and heavy duty data computing without the big price tag that accompanies traditional IT approaches and maintenance.

With a cloud solution, agencies are able to transform networks of commodity-grade servers into an agile cloud environment that can be easily scaled and managed to support sophisticated Web, SOA and analytical applications. They can also use high-performance computing platforms in much more efficient ways.

Cloud computing allows the government to access applications through any browser for fast and reliable data. Making sure that these various servers are coordinated is an especially crucial part of the process, and one that is led by companies like Appistry, 3Tera, and Elastra — which provide the software to ensure that all pieces run together smoothly.

To make things even more interesting, these Platform-as-a-Service providers can take a government agency’s internal commodity grade computers and create a private cloud that integrates seamlessly with the current IT processes of that agency. This will help save the government time and headaches, and increase efficiency.

The cloud computing initiative is an attempt to reduce the costly, out-of-date and inefficient IT services, products and policies that the government currently utilizes. Cloud computing will also help cut down on massive energy costs.

According to federal CIO Vivek Kundra, the US government’s many data centers have contributed to a doubling in federal energy consumption between 2000 and 2006. The Obama administration has indicated moving toward net neutrality and a wider adoption of cloud computing as ways to limit infrastructure spending.

While cloud computing looks promising, it is still young. Critics have been slow to trust the government’s information to the cloud. Since cloud computing currently does not have regulated security standards, many government models may stall on changing the current IT landscape.

Data security is a critical issue that cloud providers must address it in their products and services. Many providers have already been able to tailor the level of security to meet federal IT enterprise management challenges.

Private clouds offer a compelling alternative, because they offer more stringent security, privacy and customization. Those that have significant investments in their current IT structure can save costs by using private clouds to leverage existing structures.

This story was originally published on E-Commerce Times.

© 2009 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.

© 2009 BetaNews.com. All rights reserved.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2009

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