Continuing to try and define what ‘cloud computing’ means

Today, we take a look at cloud computing in the federal sphere with industry insider John Gilroy of SolutionsDevelopers.

Fed Cloud Blog: In doing research, we have found that different people define ‘cloud computing’ in different ways. What do you think ‘cloud computing’ means? (We know NIST has an official definition — do you think this works for every agency/enterprise?)

John Gilroy: My definition of cloud computing is an enterprise using web service access outside the firewall. However, given the fact that the English language is so flexible, I will reluctantly concede that using a web service inside the firewall may come under the umbrella definition of “cloud computing.” Some will argue that merely using a virtual server qualifies as using the “cloud.” Sorry, can’t push the definition to that extent.

FCB: Do you have personal experience using shared services? Briefly explain.

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: If you use shared services, why did you start/what was your motivation?

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: If you work in the cloud, tell us about that. If you don’t work in the cloud, do you plan to?

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: What are some of the benefits of working in the cloud? Pitfalls?

JG: The main benefits are replacement, selection, and recovery of web services. Replacement means that, as an organization’s requirements change, they can change the services they use. Perhaps a new vendor pops on the market with a superior product; maybe usage at one level cannot justify a specific vendor. When activity grows, this new vendor’s price can be justified. Selection indicates that when the system is designed, it can take a “full picture” look at the system and choose a service that is best for that moment. Perhaps it is not the least expensive, but it may provide better interoperability than other solutions. Recovery is always important when systems fail. Discrete web services are easier to “plug and play” than classic client/server systems.

The obvious weakness is jumping on the cloud bandwagon because your think it is stylish. Cloud computing will be nothing but headaches unless your basic architecture is squared away. Next, if you can’t make a long term financial justification for a cloud initiative, then stick the proven methods.

FCB: You have a lot of experience talking with both industry and government. What is the biggest difference when it comes to implementing cloud computing in an office/enterprise between public and private sector? Is it true that the federal government (according to stereotypes) is behind the curve?

JG: It always amazes me how federal IT professionals denigrate their systems capability. Take a look outside the government to compare. For example, last year Forrester did a study and found only 5% of enterprises used internal clouds. Furthermore, upon detailed analysis, researchers thought this figure was exaggerated. (Source: NetWorkWorld; October 19, 2009)

Moving to the cloud is not easy for public or private organizations. Everyone must make the business case for moving to a web service in the cloud. Only after careful analysis should plans be made whether or not to alter the current IT system.

FCB: I have heard about a number of security concerns regarding federal agencies and cloud computing, but are there other obstacles, as well? In culture? Laws?

JG: In my world people who refuse to even consider web services are called “server huggers.” Much like their cousins, the “tree huggers,” they may hold positions based on emotion and not logic. All we are asking for is a considered review of current applications and an evaluation of whether or not the cloud will be of value. A web service is not necessarily a candidate for replacing every application. However, the flexibility inherent in web services provides enough value to at least consider deployment.

Today, financial constraints are forcing us to examine every aspect of the information technology matrix. We no longer have the luxury to retain one way of doing a task merely by saying, “Well, this is the way we have always done it.”

FCB: In your experience, have you seen those who adopt cloud computing take baby steps — or jump right in.

JG: From my perspective a baby step into cloud computing is to select a small manageable domain and select half dozen applications as candidates for the cloud. Then, a systematic inspection of your enterprise architecture to determine the impact of using web services. The next baby step would be to test the application and evaluate. Rinse and repeat until you are happy with a small transition.

The technical considerations are easy compared to making a business case for moving to a service. The road to futility is paved with short term savings that wind up costing fortune in the long run.

John Gilroy is also the host of Federal Tech Talk on Federal News Radio 1500 AM.

Also on Federal News Radio — the Federal Executive Forum examines cloud computing this month. Check it out!

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