Congress' piece of the cloud: Supporting open standards, flexible acquisition

Congress can put its weight behind standards efforts, acquisition policies and laws that promote trust to move cloud computing forward, representatives from industry and government told members of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation at a hearing in Washington.

Congress can help in promoting standards and acquisition policy, and support legislation that builds trust in cloud computing among governments globally and citizens here at home, Michael Capellas, chairman and CEO of VCE, a joint venture between Cisco and EMC with investments from VMware and Intel.

Capellas, chairman of Tech America’s Cloud2 commission, responded to questions by subcommittee member U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill) about what Congress should be doing to promote cloud computing, and where it could do more harm than good, during a hearing on cloud opportunities and challenges, Sept. 21. The subcomittee is part of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.


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The Cloud2 commission released a report to federal officials in July with recommendations on how the U.S. government could capitalize on the advantages of cloud computing, an on-demand model that allows users to pay for only the resources they use, much like people pay for electricity in their homes.

“First and foremost, there is a policy around acquisition and how money is spent relative to it,” Capellas said.

Acquisition policy needs to be relaxed so there can be more cross collaboration, he said. For example, four agencies can come together and create one cloud platform that is secure and private, which would be better than each doing one on its own. There has to be a recognition that this investment might be done in a different way than traditional procurements, he said.

“I can’t tell you how many times we get involved in very meaningful projects that have [return on investments] only to get caught up in the actual procurement,” Capellas said, noting that the General Services Administration has been moving aggressively to improve this area.

Capellas also said that cloud standards are key, recognizing that Congress wouldn’t be determining technical standards. However, Congress can help in promoting standards and ensuring there are laws that promote trust among governments to help in the creation of global clouds. He also asked for “teeth in laws for us to [go] after the bad guys,” who compromise networks and launch cyberattacks.

Congress can help tremendously by tying the cloud agenda with improving performance of government, saving money and improving service delivery, said David McClure, associate administrator with GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“Those are things the American public really cares about -- not how many virtualized servers we have sitting in data centers,” McClure said.

McClure said the National Institute of Standards and Technology is taking the aggressive, fast-paced approach to promoting standards. Additionally, in this area of budget constraints, innovation must still take place.

The U.S. is no doubt the world leader in cloud computing, said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s technology policy group.

“It is ours to lose for the future,” Reed said. The cloud is a major transformation in the computing industry that will change the way industry and government thinks about customers and production. In these competitive times, it is important that the U.S. maintains that lead, he said.

U.S. Rep. Ben Qualye (R-Ariz.), chairman of the subcommittee, asked about how architecture of the cloud influences the types of standards that are necessary to promote the cloud. .

One of the biggest problems is portability and interoperability around the cloud, said Nick Combs, EMC Corp.’s federal chief technology officer.

Government is concerned about vendor lock-in. So, any technology implemented in the cloud should be based on open architecture. For instance, there are open protocols, such as Simple Object Access Protocol and Representational State Transfer, for storage that can be used to access data anywhere in the cloud. “If you enforce those, you create innovation,” Combs said.

Industry is going to forge this innovation, not government, he said.

“Enforcing open standards and not getting into proprietary stacks is the best way to continue [the cloud] evolution,” Combs said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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