Dan Burton is senior vice president for global public policy at SalesForce.com and said he halfway agrees with the assertion.
“In many cases, cloud computing will be a supplement to what agencies are already doing. In many cases it will replace client-server, because they’re going to find the cost, the agility, the ease of use so powerful that they’re going to do away with a lot of their client-server applications. Now, having said that, there will clearly be some applications that will not go to the cloud. Highly secure, sensitive, strategic data will probably be kept locally. But, more and more applications are going to be shipped into the cloud.
He also said operating in the cloud is much different than the traditional client-server model.
“It’s different because there’s no hardware or infrastructure that you have to buy. There’s no payment up front. It can be implemented very, very rapidly. You can have applications running in a couple of weeks or couple of months. It’s flexible [and] scales up or down — depending on what your usage is, so you’re not locked into buying a lot of software or hardware you don’t use. It’s very easy to customize. Interestingly, there’s never any legacy software, so you’re always running the latest and the greatest applications out there.”
Burton said, bottom line, cloud computing increases productivity and innovation while decreasing risk.
Another big bonus — operating in the cloud is often cheaper, but this is not the only reason some choose to switch.
“With a lot of customers that SalesForce sees in the federal government, they love the cost savings, but that is, perhaps, not the reason that they ended up going to cloud computing. The U.S. Census is running on SalesForce because we could deploy very, very rapidly and they could scale up the usage as the [agency] drives in 2010, and when it’s over, they can scale it down. The Army used it because they needed to develop a customized computing application and didn’t have one and they could build one easily on the cloud. The State Department used it because they had to access their applications anywhere.”
He said speed and performance, more than cost, are what he thinks drives agencies to the cloud.
One of the more controversial issues about cloud has to do with the percieved lack of security it provides.
Burton said, while he understands the caution, there is no evidence that operating in the cloud is any worse than a more traditional method.
“Some people would argue that it’s better because you’re not storing a lot of data on your laptop, which then gets stolen or lost. I think when we talk about security, what people are really talking about often times is a cultural shift — ‘I’m not quite comfortable not being able to look at my server in the basement or under my desk’. Somehow the thought that the data that was once under a desk or in a closet or in an agency is going to be managed remotely — that is something that takes some getting used to.”
Therefore, the most important security question any agency head can ask is — who is my vendor?
“There are some vendors that already have very high security profiles and there’s others that struggle. So, I think it’s very important to look at who you’re buying your cloud computing services from.”
It is also important to remember, he noted, that moving to the cloud does not necessarily picking up everything and performing the action in one fell swoop. Most agencies have selected one aspect of their overall enterprise and gone from there.
“There are lots of areas that we see already. Case management is one. [DHS] is using SalesForce for that. Economic development — we have a lot of states [and counties] all using SalesForce to manage their economic development. Transportation services — we have big states like New Jersey running all of their transportation services in the cloud on SalesForce. . . . There are so many applications. It’s just growing every day.”