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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Hard Can the Federal Government Drive the Cloud?

While many of us automatically equate the phrase App Store with Apple's iPhone, there is another App Store that may have far more importance.  It is Apps.gov, the app store launched last September within the federal government.  Created collaboratively between federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the General Services Administration, the store was one of several steps undertaken by the Obama administration to introduce cloud computing and a more modern IT infrastructure in general to the federal government.  The app store was established as a storefront (it is still very limited in its offerings) to let federal agencies quickly identify cloud-based solutions.  It offers four simple choices to the visitor: Social Media apps, Productivity apps, Business apps and Cloud IT services.  Click on one and you are taken to a list of free and paid solutions.  In addition to serving as an introduction to the power of the cloud, the store is intended to make procurement easier and cut acquisition cycle times.

Wait a minute!  Speed, simplicity, ease...we know these are touted as benefits of the cloud, but clearly they are not attributes of government  -- a place where new technologies evolve slower than fine wine ages and end up a generation behind by the time they are selected, funded and deployed. So what's the rush?

First, there is a new administration with a greater emphasis on technology innovation.  Second, money to procure technology is tight and the potential of the cloud is fast approaching a level of maturity that the government finds acceptable.  Further, other nations are moving aggressively to use the cloud and finally, by adopting the cloud in various forms, the government can reduce IT costs and invest or help lead the way in deploying new technology.

Apps.gov may be more symbolic of a greater push throughout the administration and its agencies to move to the cloud.  Cloudbook Magazine cites seven different federal agencies directly engaged in one form of cloud initiative or another.

In addition to Apps.gov from the GSA, these include:


The adoption process envisioned by government observers will seem familiar to those of us in the private sector:
1. Start by virtualizing data centers, consolidating data centers and operations, and then adopting a cloud-computing business model.
2. Use test beds to demonstrate capabilities, satisfying major concerns about security and privacy protection, and
3. Allow pilots to grow from test beds into agency capabilities.

This represents significant economic opportunity. While federal IT spending is projected to grow at a compound rate of 3.5% to $90 billion by 2014, federal cloud spending will grow almost 8X faster.  Input, an analyst firm tracking the public sector, forecasts 30% annual growth rate in cloud spending during the same period!  Input believes federal spending on cloud computing services will triple over the next five years, growing from $277 million in 2008 to $792 million annually by 2013, reaching more than $1billion by 2014.

The evolution is not without obstacles. Speaking at the University of Washington in March,  Kundra said the federal government, which has 1,100 data centers and more than 24,00 websites, needs to pool buying power rather than work as a loose knit federation. Standards need to evolve faster and security concerns need to be better addressed, but it seems hard to imagine that the efforts underway will be derailed.  But now, the only questions seems to be how quickly will the train leave the station and how many cars will it pull.

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