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Weather report: Slow-moving cloud for government IT

With federal spending advancing far beyond the trillion-dollar level (although a huge amount of that is going to the states), government purchasers have no shortage of friends hailing from Silicon Valley. Chief among them are locally based Google reps, who are keen on getting the federal government to adopt Cloud Computing as the future of document storage and collaboration.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

With federal spending advancing far beyond the trillion-dollar level (although a huge amount of that is going to the states), government purchasers have no shortage of friends hailing from Silicon Valley. Chief among them are locally based Google reps, who are keen on getting the federal government to adopt Cloud Computing as the future of document storage and collaboration. And Google's not the only cloud vendor hitting up Uncle Sam, either. Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM, Sun and HP are all touting cloud computing for the federal government, the Washington Post reports. The firms seem to be taking the Valley's typical "just do it" sales pitch to Washington.

"We're all putting our lives on the Internet," said Zach Nelson, chief executive of online application provider NetSuite, which has shifted its focus to federal sales. "If it works for business, why not for government?"
Government response? Uhhhh ...
"The government may be outsourcing functions to contractors now, but this takes it to a whole new level," said Jimmy Lin, assistant professor of information studies at the University of Maryland, which has received funding from Google and IBM to research cloud computing. "And what happens if Google gets hacked by a third party?" he said. "The answer is, nobody knows."
Most consumers think the government should house sensitive data itself, not outsource to the company behind YouTube, said Deniece Peterson, principal analyst for market research firm Input. But federal ownership of the data is hardly a safe bet. (See this, and this, and this, and this.) Indeed the idea that government is safe and private is risky may prove exactly wrong, said, Peter Mell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Large providers typically have more resources to ward off security threats because their business depends on it, Mell said. Agencies, on the other hand, often can't afford to hire as many employees to keep watch over the servers.

If data storage, security and software services are handled by a third party, agencies can spend less on buying their own servers and hiring employees to maintain them. In addition, agencies can rent extra capacity on those servers when they need more computing power instead of buying extra equipment they only use once in a while.

In the short term, the solution may be hybrid, such as the way the Census Bureau is using Salesforce to manage its 100,000 partner organizations but keeping actual census data on its own computers.

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