COMMENTARY

The march to the cloud reaches a turning point

NIST forum highlights efforts under way, with an accererated approach to standards

Given the relentless cloud computing hype in the federal government these days, it would be easy to overstate the significance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s forum on cloud computing forum.

However, it was hard to ignore how many federal cloud computing initiatives highlighted at the forum appear to be reaching critical liftoff speed -- or the breadth of agency and industry officials who came to hear about those initiatives on May 20.

Although we’ve been reporting on many of those initiatives — including the General Services Administration’s recent procurement moves and efforts to begin sharing security certifications through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program — perhaps the most significant initiative to emerge from the forum is a strategy named SAJACC.

SAJACC is short for Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart Adoption of Cloud Computing and focuses on a classic problem: How can a community support the adoption of a new, complex technology during the tentative early phases of development — between the time when standards are needed and the time when they become available? And how can government shorten that phase?


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NIST portal could get cloud standards to fly


NIST has introduced a partial answer: a new collaboration portal. NIST will start by posting existing standards, use cases and specifications, and encourage others to contribute new content. And it will identify gaps and new opportunities.

NIST also has laid out a detailed preliminary framework for describing cloud computing use cases. That’s important. The faster the government IT community can share how cloud computing implementations deal with three core issues  — portability, interoperability and security — the faster standards can evolve. The use-case framework also provides a template for describing critical execution issues, including accessing and sharing files and objects, job control and programming, cloud-to-cloud migration and storage, administration, and data management.

Plenty of skepticism remains about whether the ultimate cost of securely migrating agency computing work to the cloud model won’t outweigh the promised savings.

But recent Defense Department calculations suggest the case for cloud computing is compelling. It costs DOD between $8,000 and $10,000 annually to supply and support each of its 3.5 million desktop computer users, said John Shea, enterprise services and integration director at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. Shea told the forum that DOD stores more terabytes of data than the Library of Congress uses. Thus, there is a potentially huge prize in consolidating desktops in the cloud, he argued.

The march toward cloud computing will be a long one for agencies. But as of May 20, there’s no doubt the march has begun.

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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