EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

National Business Center's cloud computing effort is worth watching

Anyone with at least a modest stake in the evolution of cloud computing in government will probably want to keep an eye on the latest moves by the Interior Department’s National Business Center (NBC) .

Although the General Services Administration generated a good deal of buzz with its launch last month of a new cloud computing storefront named Apps.gov, the promise of providing computing infrastructure services on demand remains largely just that for now: a promise. On the other hand, NBC is about a month away from testing a new a set of virtualized computer infrastructure services available on demand to federal agencies.

Infrastructure as a service is just one component of NBC’s plans to offer a full range of cloud computing services, as GCN reports in this issue. Those plans include offering individual business software programs, modified to meet government standards, all the way up to hosted environments that could support an agency’s software, without the headache of owning and supporting hardware — all on a pay-on-demand basis.

Of course, NBC isn’t alone in developing cloud computing capabilities in the federal government. The Defense Information Systems Agency’s Rapid Access Computing Environment has been operating for about year, and NASA recently launched its Nebula cloud computing pilot program.

What makes NBC’s approach to cloud computing worth watching is how naturally it extends from — and enhances — NBC’s existing business and operations model. As a result, NBC’s initiatives are likely to mature faster than the cloud computing pilot programs taking root elsewhere in government.

For starters, NBC is already in the business of providing agencies with large-scale computing services to manage payrolls, finances and human resources. NBC also knows how to provide those services over various networks while meeting federal security requirements. And NBC’s clients have grown comfortable sharing common servers — something most agencies are reluctant to do with existing third-party cloud computing providers.

To support its systems and stay competitively priced with its clients, NBC has embraced virtualization and cloud computing techniques in a big way. And unlike at many agencies where the lure of cloud computing is lower operating costs — and involves a host of migration hurdles — it represents an enabling technology for NBC that directly supports the agency’s mission.

In some ways, NBC is in the position, such as Amazon was, where incremental computing volume can help drive down the costs of computing per user. That gives NBC and its clients an incentive to put cloud computing to work sooner than later — and that's something federal agencies will want to watch.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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