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Keep the 'Cloud' User in Charge

Today, Red Hat and other leaders in our nation's technology sector released a report to policy makers on how they, in cooperation with industry, academia and other nations, can (1) adopt policies that will foster development and growth of cloud computing and (2) deploy cloud computing effectively, making government work better, cheaper and smarter.



There is a lot of good work in the TechAmerica report and the recommendations cover a lot of territory in four important areas:  Trust, Transnational Data Flows, Transparency and Transformation. The report also includes a “Buyer’s Guide” that identifies opportunities for the federal government to effectively use cloud computing services. Check out the report and some supporting materials at http://www.techamericafoundation.org/cloud2.



A central theme of the report is the widespread recognition in our industry that the cloud is hardly a new phenomenon.   Indeed, the private sector has been utilizing the cloud computing model for years and achieved direct results in cost savings, flexibility and 'anytime, anywhere' availability.   As the report points out, cloud computing is the natural evolution of enterprise IT architecture. The winds driving this transition are powerful and they are here to stay.



At the same time, cloud computing has the potential to reformulate our industry in a number of ways, especially putting the focus on the user being in charge, which is where they should be.  Cloud computing is also empowering new businesses that once had to invest significantly in IT infrastructure by offering them new levels of choice and flexibility.



The report highlights important ways that the federal government can learn from the private sector's adoption of cloud computing, including assessing the business case requirements, and mapping those against agency priorities; fully understanding the security requirements for the defined implementation; and looking beyond the technology hype to involve people and process in decision-making, among other steps.



And the potential benefit to the federal government – in service, in cost, in flexible IT approaches – is enormous.   As Federal CIO Vivek Kundra recently noted, the budget debate that consumes our nation's capital is likely to encourage the federal government to continue to pursue its Cloud First policy.



But, he also cautioned that the move to greater reliance on cloud computing faces some strong headwinds. As Kundra warned, "I think you have powerful forces, companies that don’t want the government to move to the cloud because it preserves the status quo. And those forces are going to fight it tooth and nail.”



Those forces are showing up in numerous ways, including through steps by vendors to lock in their customers to particular cloud architecture and non-portable solutions, and heavy reliance on proprietary APIs.  Lock-in drives costs higher and undermines the savings that can be achieved through technical efficiency.  If not carefully managed, we risk taking steps backwards, even going toward replicating the 1980s, where users were heavily tied technologically and financially into one IT framework and were stuck there.

 

Open source software has advanced cloud computing considerably. Many of the largest, most successful cloud computing infrastructure environments run on Linux and rely heavily on open source tools.  For many users, the choice that open source solutions provides is a key step to avoid lock-in and maximize the potential of cloud computing.  We're seeing great interest in broad industry efforts like the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) to promote open source Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) virtualization technology and the important role that virtualization plays as an on-ramp to the cloud.   And Red Hat's recent cloud initiatives --  such as OpenShift, a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud for open source developers, and CloudForms, which allows users to create and manage Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) private and hybrid clouds -- are providing open source tools for a wide range of enterprise needs.



We are pleased to have been a part of the effort that produced today's TechAmerica cloud report.  The greatest challenge is to make sure that with the cloud, choice grows rather than shrinks.  This effort will be successful so long as users are kept first in order of priority, and remain in charge.



Read the full TechAmerica cloud report here.