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Public-sector CIOs answer Vivek Kundra's cloud computing call to arms

Public-sector CIOs are adopting cloud computing services as a means to deliver better services, cut costs and even share resources with other agencies.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra launched the government-sponsored cloud computing services website Apps.Gov six months ago to showcase cloud and Software as a Service options preapproved for use by federal agencies.

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The site is just part of an effort by Kundra and President Barack Obama to slash the $75 billion federal government IT budget -- and local, state and federal CIOs are listening.

Bill Oates, CIO of the city of Boston, said he's talking to "like-minded cities" about ways to develop and share applications in the cloud. "Think of applications like 311 [Citizen Connect] available on the iPhone and how we could work with other cities to develop such applications and share services and not have to build out [our own] systems and infrastructure for those applications," he said.

Instead, the cities would share the cost of supporting those applications and services in possibly a private cloud, and over time maybe even a public one.

The caveat is that the concept of a shared private cloud is not proven, but that's not stopping him from exploring all his cloud computing options, he said.

The Government Technology Research Alliance (GTRA), an organization that brings together government, industry and academic IT leaders to share best practices and collaborate about the latest IT trends and technologies, has seen interest in cloud computing services skyrocket. The organization, whose council consists of nearly 100 federal IT leaders and has just fewer than 10,000 members, has introduced a series of sessions at its semiannual GTRA Council Meeting on cloud computing services as a result. One such session at the next meeting in June, Public vs. Private vs. Hybrid Clouds, will be headlined by Chris Kemp, CIO of the NASA Ames Research Center.

The Ames Research Center introduced the Nebula Cloud Computing Platform, an open source, self-service platform that will support Mission Control and act as an information portal to the public.

"President Obama's [IT] budget request for 2011 has a page dedicated to cloud computing that outlines such goals as increased efficiencies, saving taxpayer dollars and becoming more strategic about building IT infrastructures," said Parham Eftekhari, co-founder and director of research for GTRA. "[Cloud computing] is not a mandate, but when the president asks that you consider something, people listen."

Security remains an obvious concern for government agencies, which is why many are weighing the pros and cons of private, public and hybrid cloud computing services models.

"What it comes down to [for government agencies] is what type of data can be located in the cloud and on what type of cloud -- private, public or a hybrid, as well as who has access to various data sets," he said. "Security is bar none the top concern, then availability and performance."

Yet, RightNow Technologies Inc.'s win to provide hosting services for medical military training to the Army, Navy and Air Force under a contract with the Department of Defense shows that security measures are passing muster under certain circumstances with even the most stringent of agencies.

We're working on how we
can support agencies in their efforts to develop their own cloud pilots using our infrastructure.

Daud Santosa
CTONational Business Center

At the state level, Utah CIO Steve Fletcher wants to develop a private cloud for email and Web applications, but he recommends that agencies place security, data ownership, data transferability and disaster recovery under a microscope before considering applications for a cloud environment. (Read more about data privacy in the cloud.)

A drawback to external cloud computing services for Daud Santosa, chief technology officer of the National Business Center (NBC) in Washington, D.C., is the inability to look at the provider's security measures at different tiers such as the application, presentation and database layers "Right now, security is grouped together for all these layers from what I've seen in the cloud," he said.

The National Business Center developed its own set of cloud computing services for the 150 government agencies it serves. Called the NBC CLOUD, agencies can have their applications hosted on NBC's mainframe or x86 servers. The offering already includes hosted collaboration, issue and bug tracking and blogging applications. Upcoming offerings will include a software development tool environment, customer portal and file storage.

"We're working on how we can support agencies in their efforts to develop their own cloud pilots using our infrastructure," Santosa said.

Government agencies are being led to the cloud by not just a government mandate to go green and save money, but also by the tech-savvy public.

"Citizens are more like consumers these days and are more adept, preferring cloud-based or Web-oriented services," said Jeffrey Kaplan, founder and managing director of IT consulting company ThinkStrategies Inc. in Wellesley, Mass.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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