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Ballmer's cloud computing memo timed for election's winner

Big platform changes are coming, Ballmer writes. Was he writing about Washington?

October 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- With next week's presidential election, the nation's capitol is about to experience the mother-of-all platform changes, and that's why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's cloud computing memo, titled "A Platform for the Next Technology Revolution," seems especially well timed.

In the days immediately following the election, the president-elect will dispatch transition teams. And since both Barack Obama and John McCain's campaigns have relied heavily on social networking sites and other cloud-based services to help their campaigns, these transition teams may come to Washington with a different attitude about what they want from federal IT systems.

That's why next week's election may create an opportunity for vendors to pitch new technology directions, and cloud services adoption in particular, said Michael Farber, a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a management consulting firm with a number of federal clients.

Farber said he believes the period following the election will be a fertile time to "structure a pilot and forge a partnership with Google."

Ballmer's memo, which echoed the sweeping, change-is-at-hand message of Bill Gates' 1995 Internet Tidal Wave memo, bundles the cloud, social networking, and the diversity of access devices, to argue that a "dramatic transformation" is taking place in IT. The vendors are already pushing federal IT managers to adopt some of these changes.

Microsoft and other cloud services providers including Google, believe their platforms can handle the government's most sensitive material. At a small forum here that included government IT managers from the data processing-intensive intelligence community such as one who identified himself (to chuckles from the audience) as from a "non-descript" federal agency, attendees raised questions about the security of cloud services.

The vendors say they can tackle security issues with their cloud services. Following the panel, Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online, said he believes the company's new cloud platform Windows Azure would meet classified requirements, regardless of if it is in one of Microsoft's data centers or one operated by a partner. The U.S. already uses private data center providers for some of its classified data processing, he pointed out.

Cloud platforms create opportunities for new kinds of threats, but they may also be harder for someone to develop an exploit for if less open than a server or desktop operating system, panelists said. Michael Nelson, a visiting professor of Internet studies at Georgetown University, said what may help cloud providers in developing secure platforms will be their ability to hire workers with an interest in the latest technologies and stock options, not running IT for a grocery chain.

One issue that could pose a problem for cloud providers may be the availability of bandwidth. Nicholas Carr, a panel moderator and author of a recent book on IT's role in the world titled The Big Switch, asked if with Web services' increase if the U.S. might become "bandwidth capacity constrained" and require businesses and government to prioritize certain traffic.

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