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Governments becoming the biggest cloud users

Yes, governments are well-known for unwieldy bureaucracies, carrying out processes with ten people that can be just as easily done with one or two, and for engaging an entire committee to figure out something that a high school student could probably take care of in an afternoon. But sometimes they do get it right.

Bloated IT infrastructures in government are already being streamlined by cloud computing options, especially in the US, where the country’s CIO Vivek Kundra is taking the lead. While Kundra was the technology chief in the District of Columbia, prior to his appointment by President Obama, he saved the district millions of dollars with a few common-sense cloud implementations. He killed a project to create  multi-million dollar intranet for the district. What did he put in its place? Google Apps.

This was a case of a solution staring you right in the face. The district’s training information is now on videos on Google Apps, procurement information is available there, and a vast amount of public information has been shifted to the Google platform. And not satisfied with that, he also implemented the “Apps for Democracy” program, which has already generated tremendous cost savings. The program is a contest, which allows users to create applications that make use of data that is already available from the district’s web site.

Kundra is a big proponent for cloud computing, and said, “The cloud will do for government what the Internet did in the ’90s. . . . it’s a fundamental change ot the way our government operates by moving to the cloud. Rather than owning the infrastructure, we can save millions.”

Clearing up a security misconception

There are many different types of cloud computing, and the simplest and most well-known example is free, public email such as Hotmail or Gmail. There have been plenty of examples in the news lately of misuse of these free services, and accounts being hacked. One of the most prominent examples was when the email account of Sarah Palin, the former US Vice Presidential candidate, was hacked.

There is a big difference between using a free public email service and deploying secure email in the cloud. Almost all security experts caution against using these free services for anything that could remotely be sensitive, and experts on corporate policy say that use of them should be prohibited in the workplace. Using the cloud to run your own virtual corporate email server, on the other hand, is just as secure as running it in-house.

There are two things that govern security in a hosted, cloud-based email configuration; and that is the security afforded by the cloud provider, and your own internal corporate policy. Policy item number one should be that employees should use only corporate email accounts for business, and not the free services, which typically do not include the same robust security practices that are offered by cloud providers like Cloud Central.

Secure email is a serious business. Smaller companies in particular often lack the specific expertise required to run a safe and secure internal email server; in this case especially it is advantageous to move your corporate email server to the cloud to take advantage of the cloud provider’s existing security infrastructure, their own in-house talent and expertise, and to make use of the provider’s 24×7 maintenance and administration facilities.

Gartner puts cloud computing at the top of the list

Cloud computing is rapidly taking its place as the most disruptive technology of the decade. Research organization Gartner has placed cloud computing at the very top of its list of the “Top 10 strategic technology areas for 2010”, up from its number three position last year.

It’s no longer just a buzzword, vaporware, or something that hasn’t yet been proven. It’s not just for the early adopters, it’s gone mainstream. Gartner sees a very broad range of users taking advantage of the cloud in the near future. To date, many people have asked the question, “is cloud computing suitable for enterprise computing?” And the answer is a resounding “yes”. With excellent performance metrics, strong security and availability of a powerful infrastructure, it’s ready to roll. Gartner visualizes enterprise customers making use of cloud computing to act as cloud providers themselves, pushing out data, applications, and services to their own customers and business partners.

In relation to cloud computing, Gartner also highlights the advantages of virtualization. By abstracting the server layer, and creating virtual barriers between a single physical piece of equipment, the actual choice of hardware—and even the OS—is becoming less important, according to Gartner.

According to the Gartner analysts, it’s no longer a question of whether or not cloud computing will work for you, it’s just a matter of deciding which cloud services will give you the greatest value, how to write applications that run on cloud services, and whether or not to use a private cloud, a cloud service, or a combination of the two.

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