The power of the cloud

Can the government trust cloud computing? Perhaps not for highly sensitive data, but for most daily business, the technology can increase convenience and save money, said Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer for Washington, D.C. That's why he is moving city employees to Google Enterprise products.

'It's part of a much larger shift that I'm pushing across all of government,' Kundra said. The goal is 'to be able to run government from anywhere in the world.'

Kundra said that goal crystallized for him on Sept. 11, 2001. He was interviewing for a job in Virginia, and his meeting was interrupted by news of airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of that terrorist attack, Kundra said he made several observations.

'Communication was so broken in a whole host of areas,' he said. 'One area was public safety interoperability. The holy grail of voice, video and data being integrated wasn't being realized. Everything was in silos. You didn't have mobility.'

That realization led Kundra to pursue the idea of a stateless government. And that in turn led him to Google Enterprise.

'What Google Apps allow us to do is to collaborate in real time anytime, anywhere,' he said.

Of course, there are other ways to achieve that goal, but they are expensive, and Kundra said cost was the second factor that pushed him to Google Enterprise.

'Gartner claims that the average cost of [an e-mail account] per user is about $8 per month,' he said. 'We have been able to do that at less than half that price since we've migrated to Google Apps.'

The third reason for moving to Google Enterprise was to bring consumer technologies into government operations. 'When I first walked out of my place in D.C. and got into a local coffee shop, I realized that I had more computing power in my hands with that laptop and a broadband connection than the average police officer, the average teacher and the average public works employee. The question I asked was, 'Why is that?' '

He said one reason is agencies' preference for in-house, proprietary or custom solutions, which officials believe offer more security.

Although Kundra said cloud computing might not be appropriate for classified data, 'if you think about it, there is very little the government does that is private.' Furthermore, 'knowing that Google has put in security procedures that are arguably better than any federal agency can point to, we find security in this distributed architecture.'

Washington officials bought Google Enterprise licenses for 38,000 users, and 5,000 have already migrated to the Web-based technology.

Kundra said some users might need to stick with more powerful ' and expensive ' desktop applications if their work requires it.

But most employees will be able to take advantage of the flexibility and lower cost of working with Web-based applications.

'The time is coming near when the operating systems won't matter at all,' Kundra said. 'For my personal life, most of what I do is actually all online on the Web. There is very little that I do where I have to go to a hard drive for. The browser is now becoming the core operating system for our day-to-day work, and it is available anytime, anywhere.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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