Vendors and academic experts believe it is not a matter of if, but when the government will move to cloud computing.
Cloud computing is when users access applications and data through the Web. Many times the data and software are not located in one central location, but at a handful of different places and the user pulls what they need, when they need it.
Commercial vendors from Amazon to Google to Microsoft offer services, such as e-mail, through cloud computing.
“The consumer model is less expensive than other models because you don’t have to focus as much on the infrastructure,” says Mike Bradshaw, president of Google federal, at a cloud computing event in Washington Wednesday sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton. Bradshaw was one of several industry experts discussing why agencies need to begin considering how they can use cloud computing.
Michael Farber, a partner with Booz Allen, says many agencies understand this approach, but few have figured out the best way.
The Defense Information Systems Agency is one agency that is trying to use cloud computing. It started a pilot program, called Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE), to let military users test and put into production applications in a cloud computing environment.
Farber says other agencies want a construct that would meet their needs and alleviate their concerns around security and ownership.
He says one way could be a government-owned and contractor provided type, which is similar to the way the Energy Department runs its national labs.
The security issue is the biggest challenge, experts say.
Ron Markezich, a corporate vice president of Microsoft, says he works closely with agencies to get them comfortable with how the Redmond, Wash., company manages and secures the cloud. He says Microsoft does keep all government data in the United States and has a third party audit its security controls.
“The government has to be comfortable with our security,” he says. “We would set up a dedicated environment for only that customer. It may be cordoned off physically and logically.”
Other experts say the security around cloud computing couldn’t be any worse than the current security measures being used now.
“We have the incentive to get security right,” says Jeff Barr, a senior Web services evangelist for Amazon. “The cloud providers can do more than any one individual organization could do.”
Because of these security and other concerns, agencies likely will test out this concept over the next year, Farber says.
Others say agencies should start small to get a sense of how it works.
“Agencies need to understand how the cloud could fit into their architecture,” Markezich says. “The focus must be on the benefits.”
He adds that some commercial cloud customers of Microsoft have saved anywhere from 10 percent to 80 percent on the cost of their infrastructure.