Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cloud Computing Advancing

“Cloud computing can lower costs and change the way computer services are delivered but it won’t happen overnight”, according to Vivek Kundra, Administrator and Federal Chief Information Officer for the Executive Office of the President. As the keynote speaker at the Brookings Institution Policy Forum on “The Economic Gains of Cloud Computing”, he stressed that the federal government needs to promote and develop cloud computing.

He sees cloud computing lowering government operation costs, driving innovation, and changing how we deliver IT services. Cloud computing is still in the early days and future progress won’t happen easily overnight and may take a decade or longer to mature.

Kundra looked back in history to explain the concept of cloud computing. He said ‘Consider how homes used to have a well to generate or get water, but as time went on, people were able to turn on a tap to get water. What this means is that we not only have the convenience of tap water, but we also can control how much water we consume and we are billed only for what water we use.” Cloud computing is similar since users can access computing power from a pool of shared resources and in the future this is how our computing resources will be delivered.

Many highly respected people in the field think that the federal agencies should migrate to the cloud. According to Kundra, cloud computing will offer big financial gains and save the government billions of dollars.

As Kundra explained, the U.S spends over $76 billion annually on more than 10,000 systems and provides technology support for millions of people but yet we do this with a fragmented and inefficient technology infrastructure. To prove the point, over the past decade, in the federal government, the number of federal data centers grew from 432 to more than 1,100 data centers. The result is that we have redundant infrastructure investments that are costly, inefficient, unsustainable, and also greatly impact energy consumption.

Cloud computing is taking place in the private sector and so far has produced some good results and savings. For example, NASDAQ now has the ability to give customers and regulators information on past trading actions and a snapshot of market conditions at the time of the trade. Starbucks is using cloud-based tools to launch an online community in order to hear from customers on how to make improvements.

As Kundra explained, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) heavily involved in the cloud issue is leading efforts to develop standards for data portability, cloud interoperability, and security. The President’s budget proposed $70 million in standard development at NIST to not only use for cloud computing, but cloud computing will be the major focus.

To start the process, NIST is hosting a “Cloud Summit” on May 20th along with other government agencies and the private sector. The plan is to define Federal Government requirements for cloud computing, determine the technical research that is needed, and develop standards. The goal is to work closely with industry and meet their concerns for security, portability and interoperability.

Some of the agencies across government have already begun shifting to the cloud. For example, HHS recently awarded a contract to support the implementation of EHR systems. If new easier models of delivery and technology are developed then it will be easier for providers to use EHR systems and reduced costs will help doctors adopt EMRs. With this project in place, analysts will able to quickly identify the best practices for EHR implementation as they emerge.

HHS also uses cloud computing through their Information and Systems Management Service (ISMS). ISMS, is able to consolidate technological resources and information to provide an extensive array of information and technology services to HHS.

For example, the Medical Affairs Branch within ISMS offers many services and an enormous amount of information from just one single source to make it easier to administer healthcare with ease. Because of the efficiency of the operation, 99 percent of customer requests for information are responded to within two business day after the request is made.

Kundra summed up and said the individual federal agencies are now committed to rethinking their strategy for cloud computing and are creating their own plans for development and not just duplicating solutions across the federal government. The information from the agencies will be compiled and could play a big part in planning for cloud computing in the FY 2012 budget.