Friday, November 14, 2008 - Cloud Computing in the Federal Government

Had a great trip to Washington DC this week for our first ever Cloud Camp Federal government edition. It was very interesting to see the point of view of so many involved in IT for the US Federal government. We had a great turn out with more then 160 people signing up for the event. What I found most telling was that there seems to be a growing interest in using remote computing services within federal agencies and it's not fore the reasons you'd expect.

One of the recurring questions I kept hearing was that of trust. Can we trust third party providers of computing capacity? The analogy of the traditional phone company such as AT&T was also used quite frequently. We prefer to work with "cloud providers" that we trust. There seems to be the biggest opportunity for those already entrenched in the existing political IT establishment.

The question of security was raised numerous times. It's ranged from the more obvious concerns to the question of data privacy and portability. A group from the DOD said they looked forward to using technologies such as XMPP for the federation of multiple shared private clouds and said interoperability standards should be created.

One of the more interesting comments was that money was not an issue for the more major IT organizations within the federal government. So if you are the DOD, the core benefit to cloud computing wasn't as a cost saving measure but as an efficiency enabler. It sounded to me like just getting VMware into their infrastructure would be a huge win. Not that I completely agree that virtualization is in itself cloud computing, but it was obvious that inefficency in general was a major issue.

For other less critical federal agencies it wasn't that cloud computing wasn't going to happen but that it already was happening. There was an emphasis on none critical services, the so called low hanging fruit. These none core web services provided the best and possibly largest opportunity for cloud computing with in the federal government. Think along the lines of the Whitehouse website or federal information programs. Ways to quickly and easily get the word out.

The spooks in the room also had an interesting take on things. The US is being beaten, and beaten badly by upstart cloud programs coming out of China and Russia and the level of red tape on the beltway was doing more harm then good. Also the concept of Russia being able take control of millions of zombie PC's at moment notice seem to be troubling. Another point of contention was that China has been able to create million server clouds with little or no competition from the US. On the flip side they also assured me that there is a lot more going on, but they couldn't talk about it. It was clear the use of distributed cloud technology represented one of the biggest opportunities within the military IT organizations and the likelihood of some small cloud upstart or even Google or Amazon getting the job was slim.

Needless to say, we're living in some interesting times.

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