Can the feds get onboard?

Contemplating Clouds

Enterprise, Government on May 13th, 2011 No Comments

Is your data slow? Do you need 100% uptime? Cloud computing is the innovative solution!

Shortly before Thanksgiving in 2010, a small ‘glitch’ in FAA computers caused the entire system to freeze. Solution: Power down, reboot, and wait. In the meantime, hundreds of planes all over the world were grounded.  In 2005, a virus caused the Dept of Agriculture to grind to a halt for 6 days.  For other federal systems, increased uptime and load (for example, financial systems that cave under pressure during year end) have been a recurring issue.

The Cloud is the much touted solution.  Cloud computing has flexible capacity, huge scalability, brings no additional costs (for low usage or peak usage, the price is the same), and it enables organizations to prototype and test easily.  It’s an incredibly agile technology that easily expands to suit the organizational needs.

Yet, this past week, Google cloud problems forced the complete shutdown of – that’s millions of blogs that could not be updated. There have been problems off and on with Google documents.  And while no one  would really care if they lost a post about their cat, imagine how many people would care if the data lost meant that your paycheck didn’t happen today. Or your social security check did not come. Or your car registration was permanently lost.

Prior to this point, the major criticisms of a Fed Cloud were data security and privacy, integration with non-cloud applications and platforms, and of course control – who would manage multiple departments, divisions, or agency’s data? Who would ‘own’ (and get the $$$) to control such a massive amount of information?

These are some big problems.

Yet… the Blogger debacle raises other major concerns that were previously assumed – data quality and service level. What do you do when a cloud outage eats some (but not all) of your data?  And what happens when the “foolproof, always up” cloud  crashes to the ground?  Is it still cost effective to have a cloud and have backup servers locally?

I am hoping that the CIOs and heads of IT departments at the federal agencies are reading this news and reconsidering some of the soundbites they’ve been told about the cloud.  This is not me saying that I think the cloud “sucks” or isn’t the most amazing solution ever… merely that every concern must be checked off prior to handing over social security, or federal student loans, or vital national security intelligence information – to something that may not be exactly as promised.

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About the Author

is an IT consultant working in the Washington DC metro area.
Connect on Twitter: @techbelle

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