Editor's Desk

The path to cloud computing is beginning to take shape

Perhaps the top challenge in sorting through all the noise about cloud computing as we head into 2010 is trying to establish the right road map for moving forward — especially within government agencies.

Federal chief information officers certainly have much more to work with than they did a year ago.

It seemed then — as it still does — that there were as many definitions of cloud computing as there were computing and consulting companies angling for a piece of what legitimately promises to be the next great era of enterprise computing.

Fortunately for federal CIOs and other technology managers, the National Institute of Standards and Technology weighed in this year to standardize the language describing many of the processes associated with cloud computing. Those definitions and various deployment models were updated again last month.

That hasn’t stopped vendors, of course, from asserting their own definitions — or “cloud-washing” the subject, as Forrester Research’s James Staten describes it.

Forrester’s most recent assessment of cloud computing in October is guilty of a bit of cloud-washing of its own. The Forrester report defines 11 cloud-computing services within the three categories of services defined by NIST for delivering software, infrastructure and platform development tools over the Internet. Forrester’s list includes specialty cloud services for databases, storage systems, desktop PCs and billing systems, among others.

What the report makes clear, however, is that aside from software-as-a-service offerings, most of the other services associated with cloud computing have significant, if varying, slopes to climb before reaching maturity.

That and questions about what services actually work is why drawing a road map to a cloud-based computing future is so challenging.

And it’s why the General Services Administration’s near-term priorities regarding cloud computing will likely serve as essential groundwork for evolving to the cloud.

Those priorities were articulated in part this month by David McClure, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications, which has already begun using cloud services.

McClure said GSA and federal CIOs have established four working groups focused on:

  • Security, including privacy and disclosure management.
  • Standards, particularly involving interoperability and data portability.
  • Use cases, detailing what must be in place to migrate data successfully to the cloud.
  • Communication, to promote two-way exchange between government and industry.
Also envisioned are centers for technology excellence and innovation to foster pilot projects, demonstrations and proofs of concept, he said.

No doubt, the road map to federal cloud computing will require a lot more whiteboard work. The good news: The working concepts, and the challenges they present, have begun to take real shape.

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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