Fed CIOs Look for Signs of Opportunity in Cloud

WASHINGTON -- Although top federal IT officials say they see value in cloud computing services, many are holding off on widespread use of the technology until vendors can adapt their offerings to account for unique government needs and budget processes.

For example, said Chris Kemp, CIO at NASA's Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., many cloud computing vendors host tools on a small cluster of computers, whereas NASA often needs massive clusters to perform scientific research, "We operate at science scale, not enterprise application scale," Kemp said at an IT budget forum here last month.

And many agencies are still working to figure out exactly how to fashion government contracts covering the use of cloud computing services, said Doug Bourgeois, director of the National Business Center at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The center, which provides business services to multiple federal agencies, hopes to offer cloud computing services one day but needs more government-savvy contracts than vendors offer now, he added.

"How can the private-sector infrastructure providers provide me with a business model that's pay-as-you-go?" he said. "My customers are only going to pay for what they can use. I need to purchase infrastructure and technology under the same model, so it's truly a shared-risk partnership."

Radha Sekar, assistant deputy undersecretary of the defense comptroller for financial management in the Department of Defense, added that the federal budget process isn't geared toward purchasing computing power on an as-you-need-it basis. Thus vendors of hosted services need to educate lawmakers about the benefits, she said.

Despite the hurdles, the IT managers said cloud computing could prove to be a boon to their agencies.

The advantages of cloud computing "are so compelling, I don't think there's any going back," added Casey Coleman, CIO of the General Services Administration.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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