a central point for collection of information as it relates to cloud computing in the government
The Federal Cloud
August 16, 2009 at 12:20 pm #78058
The complications of cloud computing
August 14, 2009 - 1:18pm
Look before you leap.
That's the advice from one technology expert about federal agencies using cloud computing.
FederalNewsRadio has been telling you about the technology; some agencies have been using it for years, while others have yet to employ it.
Michael Daconta is chief technology officer at Accelerated Information Management LLC and recently wrote an article warning feds that they shouldn't dive in head-first without examining some of the dangers of cloud computing.
He talked more about it on Thursday's Daily Debrief.
"The key thing to understand is, [cloud computing] is the right approach. It can have significant cost savings, but I think what you don't want to forget is, it's basically not finished. . . . This cake is still in the oven. We need to make sure we have the standards in place, obviously the security needs to be in place."
More importantly, Daconta added, one has to look at whether or not it is the wisest approach for any given situation.
"You could easily retard the standards development for the higher level services by rushing out to deploy the lower level services, especially if those lower level services have to shift or be modified to support some of the higher level services."
Daconta said cloud computing works for a large number of applications, but standards are a must before agencies make the transition.
"The idea of abstracting away what you want done from how it's done is a very strong value proposition. So, I do believe cloud computing is a good strategy for a large class of applications, but, if you look at the examples out there now . . . the stuff out there right now is mostly around proprietary interfaces that [say] you've got to be locked in to one particular mode of computing. Clearly that's not what the government wants."
Cloud computing in the federal government is, thus, a dream for programmers and a nightmare for managers.
"Having been on both [sides], as a developer and as a manager, government managers don't often have the ability to say, 'I can sit side-by-side with you and give you daily meetings on developing this application'. So, agile development has some good things, but, really you need a much more balanced approach to take design seriously [and] do a concept of operations."
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been working on cloud computing standards for the federal government and has released an initial document. Daconta said this is a good start, but much more needs to be done.
"When you get into real work for the standards, as an example, when you go to that platform as a service, you have to get down to the exact API's -- what exact services are you offering -- how does a programmer call those services -- what is the data that goes past into those services -- what data come out? So, it has to be a very tight level of specificity."
There has been disagreement about standards in the private sector, as well. Daconta said that, because cloud computing is still developing as a technology, it has been really challenging to get everyone on the same page.
He brought up the example of The Cloud Manifesto -- a document that is attempting to bring members of industry on board.
"When you look at trying to take it above things that are commodities -- you want to go buy disk storage or you want to have serves on a particular operating system -- we've done hosting centers for years and years and years. If you want to say, I need to host a web site, that's been done . . . but that's just data center hosting. To say that's cloud computing, I think, is a little disingenuous. Really, when you're talking about cloud computing, you're talking about the next level. You're talking about easing the time for development. You're talking about applications developers that don't have to worry about -- how is my data stored -- how do I add logic to my applications -- how do I visually present that?"
Daconta likened cloud computing to bringing development environments to the next level.
"Development environments over the last ten or 15 years have improved dramatically. It is much easier to develop an application today, than when I started programming. That's a good thing. A lot of that's been done because of things like Microsoft's Visual Studio, which allows you to use drag and drop wigits, and then you code behind the wigits. Cloud computing is the evolution of that when you talk about using it as an application development platform."
Once standards are developed, Daconta said cloud computing will be able to save time and help developers solve programming problems.
"Developers don't do scalability very well. Well, just like we did in languages like Java -- Java took the whole memory management problem off the table. Cloud computing will also take a whole suite of difficult development challenges, like threaded computing, off the table. That's a good thing. To do that, though, the programmer interfaces need to be fully specified."
The federal government has an important role to play in the development of cloud computing, Daconta concluded.
"It can start out doing pilots. It can start getting a concept of operations flushed out. Pushing and promoting the standards, bringing the major vendors together to talk about getting to the next level. Between that an pilots, I don't think [cloud computing] is too far off, but I don't think it's this year."
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