Cloud computing has been generating a lot of ink lately, and not all of it favorable. A Government Computer News article recently called cloud computing a red herring in the government IT marketplace. What's missing from the conversation, what are the critics not considering? ExecutiveBiz recently brought those questions to Mike Bradshaw, federal team director of Google Enterprise. Here, Bradshaw offers a six-point checklist to consider about cloud computing and its relevance to government customers. Plus, he shares how systems integrators can get on board a trend he says is here to stay.
1.) Cloud computing isn't an “all or nothing“ enterprise. “Don't think cloud computing innovators are trying to replace everything “” we're not,“ says Bradshaw. He offers an analogy: the introduction of the PC in the early 1990s. PCs weren't coming in to replace mainframes, as some had initially feared. They were added on to existing capabilities. So, too, with cloud computing. “This new capability can help an organization across all their applications,“ says Bradshaw. “That doesn't mean,“ he adds, “you need to move everything to the cloud, it just means you now, literally, have access to unprecedented computing and processing power.“
2.) Cloud computing offers new computing capability. Any wide-scale analysis of information has faced limitations in the past due to process capabilities. Not so with cloud computing. “As a result of [enhanced] processing capability, and the information out there, you can do analysis in days versus weeks,“ says Bradshaw. One example: Through analytical tools afforded by cloud computing, Bradshaw's team recently engaged with the CDC in a predictive analysis of the next flu outbreak. That information was based upon trend analysis of questions people were asking about the flu via the CDC's online portal.
3.) Cloud computing spurs rapid development cycle. In the past, time between a software's release and the next version might be two years. Cloud computing, by contrast, offers the chance for immediate feedback to any new interface or feature, thereby spurring innovation. Google's machine translation capability is an example; recent enhancements include incorporating the capability into instant messaging and email. So too is Google Maps, which the State Department recently leveraged to create an interactive map of Secretary of State Clinton's travels. The EPA, meanwhile, makes air quality information available to citizens using Google Earth.
4.) Cloud computing is friendly on federal, state, and local wallets. “Cloud computing completely changes people's expectations about what they should be paying for services such as email,“ says Bradshaw. “We're talking 10 to 20 times less in cost,“ he adds. Cloud computing also facilitates another cost-savings approach increasingly adopted by agencies: telework and telecommuting. The technology allows employees to do a significant portion of work via a browser. Employees can also access a CRM (customer resource management) system through their browser. Google docs and Google apps facilitate the process, allowing employees to securely access their email and documents from anywhere, anytime.
5.) Cloud computing security is on the line. The idea of offloading data onto someone else's center makes people just a little bit nervous. But offloading isn't something to fear, says Bradshaw, it's something that can actually serve as assurance. “A lot of cloud computing companies, when you think about it, have to be secure,“ says Bradshaw. “They're attacked constantly and if there's a security breach it could bring down the entire company,“ he adds. That means that companies such as Google are extra-vigilant to ensure everything is locked down. Google, for its part, recently announced it would make its internet cloud FISMA-compliant by the end of this year. The company is also contributing to a discussion of what policy enhancements can bolster the future security of any cloud computing paradigm.
6.) Cloud computing offers a potential bonanza for systems integrators. Certain applications, like email, have become utilities; it's no longer incumbent on government agencies to hire government contractors to integrate those kind of services. That shifts the focus from utility applications back onto an agency's mission, says Bradshaw. That spells a prime opportunity for systems integrators to help government clients integrate the cloud computing application, and accompanying security, into their enterprise. “We're seeing a strong interest in bringing people into the government who understand the new technology [cloud computing] and can determine where it makes sense to integrate it into the environment,“ says Bradshaw.
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