Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cloud Computing as a Strategic Asset

For some reason, this week seems to have more in it than most. While the steady stream of briefing request seem to be increasing, the post briefing discussions also seem to be much more intense. The cloud computing education phase seems to also be morphing into a cloud computing implementation phase. The number of "What is cloud computing?" questions are much fewer while the business case questions are now commanding the most attention. As if to highlight this transition, a Pentagon meeting I had earlier this week really crystallized the following points for me:
  • Although SOA is not a pre-requisite for obtaining value from cloud computing techniques, it does maximize the operational and economic value of using cloud computing technologies.
  • Detailed knowledge of an organizations business processes enhances the operational effectiveness and value of SOA, and by extension, a cloud computing deployment.
  • Cloud computing can open up new avenues for federal acquisition competition. One possible model could see the government operating a government-owned SOA layered on top of a commercial, competitively selected infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) platform.
  • Information is a strategic asset and a cloud computing infrastructure can enhance the employment of that asset.

These points aren't necessarily new, but to me, they reinforce the strategic importance of getting cloud computing for the government right the first time.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Vivek Kundra: "Engage the American People in their Daily Digital Lives"

Today I attended a very impressive talk by the Federal CIO, Mr. Vivek Kundra at a Northern Virginia Technology Council Public Policy event. His open and "matter of fact" approach to explaining the coming government IT transformation was focused and direct.

After engaging the audience with a personal anecdote about the 9/11 interview in Arlington that catapulted his professional career, he outlined why Virginia was his model for transforming the Federal information technology platform and bureaucracy. In tackling this huge task, his baseline assumptions appear to be as follows:
  • The Federal Government has not done a good job of establishing IT requirements;
  • Private companies have not been held accountable for their failures in delivering IT to the Federal enterprise; and
  • "Faceless accountability" for the failure of Federal IT efforts must become a thing of the past.
Another key point was that while recovery of the national economy is a clear priority, it is also important to understand what we are recovering to. To that end, and the National Academy of Public Administration are hosting a national online dialog in order to engage the public, IT solution providers and government partners in answering one key question:

"What ideas, tools, and approaches can make a place where the public can monitor the expenditure and use of recovery funds?"

Mr. Kundra's also outlined his vision of a "context driven government". The key question for successfully implementing this vision is:

"How do we engage the American public in their daily digital life?"

It is now clear to me why the President selected him as the first Federal CIO. His practical and results oriented management style bodes well for us all.

If you would like to participate in the Recovery Dialogue on Information technology Solutions, visit anytime between April 27th and May 4th.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

McKinsey vs. Booz Allen Hamilton !

A community skirmish reminiscent of the recent "manifestogate" has apparently erupted around the McKinsey & Co. report "Clearing the air on cloud computing". Booz Allen Hamilton Principals Mike Cameron and Rod Fontecilla have taken the report on with their own analysis.

"The McKinsey report, as presented, seeks to be the 'other voice' and offer a contrarian view of cloud computing. The first thing we noted was the statement, on slide 7, that 'Cloud computing can divert IT departments’ attention from technologies that can actually deliver sizable benefits; e.g., aggressive virtualization.' This view seems to be an underlying motif in subsequent discussions, yet it is a premise that is not substantiated."

Read all their comments in the Government Cloud Computing e-zine article.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oracle Buys Sun!!

Swooping in from nowhere, Oracle buys Sun for $7.4B!!

"This morning, the companies announced that they'd struck a deal worth $7.4 billion or $5.6 billion net of Sun's cash and debt. Under the terms, Oracle will acquire Sun common stock for $9.50 per share in cash.

The arrangement would provide Oracle ownership of Java and Solaris and gives Oracle control of MySQL, in addition to its own flagship database technology."

What a coup for Oracle and a boon for cloud computing!! As a software company focused on transitioning to the SaaS model, Oracle is making a very loud statement with this acquisition. With our SOA-R partners, Northrop Grumman and Appistry, Dataline has already successfully demonstrated an ability to use the Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle Beehive on the Amazon EC2 platform (see Cloud Computing: Infrastructure-as-a-Service Demonstration). As one of the largest Oracle application users, the Federal government will now definitely see Oracle as a viable software standard for the much anticipated government cloud.

Aneesh Chopra Nominated For Federal CTO

Although Aneesh Chopra is a new name for most, he is well know in Virginia as Governor Tim Kaine's Secretary of Technology. For the Commonwealth, he was charged with leading the state's strategy to effectively leverage technology in government reform. If his strategy for the state can be used as an indicator for his plans in President Obama's administration, you should take a look at Virginia's Strategic Plan for Information Technology.

One of the state's most successful recent innovations was the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA), the Commonwealth's consolidated information technology organization. Not your typical government agency, VITA is actually a public-private partnership between Virginia and Northrop Grumman.

"The 10-year, $2 billion public-private partnership between VITA and Northrop Grumman is transforming state government's IT infrastructure technology and providing the expertise and resources to support improved delivery of government services. Believed to be the first and the largest of its kind in the nation, the IT Infrastructure Partnership will deliver state-of-the-art technologies with significant resources for the benefit of citizens and consumers.

VITA and Northrop Grumman formed a public private partnership to provide the latest information technology services to Virginia state government. Northrop Grumman is responsible for the service delivery of the Commonwealth's IT infrastructure needs, with oversight from VITA. It also provides the essential up-front private sector capital that otherwise would not be practically available to the Commonwealth. That capital enables the transformation of the IT environment and provides for ongoing refreshes to keep it in step with future technology advancements.

By July 2009, the partnership will transform the state's IT infrastructure from more than 80 different agency systems to an enterprise-wide and a more cohesive, secure and efficient infrastructure."

Mr. Chopra's background with VITA seems to be a match for Vivek Kundra and the apparent vector towards Federal cloud computing. A VITA-like Federal agency may, in fact, be the perfect model for managing the coming government cloud.

This really is change!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Could Cloud Computing Cost More?

In a recent conference, analyst William Forrest says that large companies could end up paying more than twice as much by using cloud based services. According to a report, Deflating The Cloud, a study focused on a McKinsey & Co. financial services client showed that the financial firm would be paying 150% more for cloud-based services versus owning the infrastructure.

"Much of cloud computing's misplaced hype, contends Forrest, comes from the assumption that businesses that make the switch will be able to do away with their entire IT department, an expensive collection of personnel. But in his analysis of McKinsey's financial services client, Forrest found that only around 15% of the company's 1,700 or so IT employees had hands-on access to hardware and software--most worked in support or other administrative areas. That means moving to Amazon's service would only cut about 200 full-time workers, hardly the savings chief information officers might imagine."

Others, including Amy Wohl leading analyst at Wohl Associates, disagree arguing that Forrest's analysis leaves out the value of avoiding large capital outlays and ignores the flexibility inherent in cloud computing.

This is actually a good debate. The economic value of cloud computing needs to be studied carefully. Cloud computing is not the answer to all IT ills and if this market is to be successful, both the pros and cons must be well understood.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cisco's Cloud Computing Strategy

A couple of weeks ago, Krishna Sankar provided a glimpse into Cisco's cloud computing strategy in a presentation titled "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Inter-Cloud" . The presentation outlined the four tenets of Cisco's cloud computing strategy:
  • Build Right Products (Unified Fabric, Unified Compute, Virtualization Aware)
  • Technology (Enhanced IP core with tight coupling to software)
  • Multiphased (Standalone Clouds to Enterprise-Class to Inter-Cloud)
  • Open Standards (Accelerate Cloud deployment and federation through Cloud standards)
  • Services/References SW (Services-led Cloud blueprints with reference software stacks)

The presentation also describes and end goal as a time "when enterprise applications can seamlessly move between their internal and external clouds leveraging the elasticity and multi-tenancy that a cloud infrastructure offers".

An "Inter-cloud" standards and protocol roadmap is also offered.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NCOIC and Cloud Computing: An Update

As the NCOIC gets it's arms around this new paradigm, the Cloud Computing Working Group has focused on establishing a roadmap for providing value to the industry. Using the established NCOIC Interoperability Framework, Network Centric Analysis Tool and Building Blocks, the working group's way forward will be to:
  • Embrace collaboration with Federal Projects and stakeholders in order to aid their effort to leverage cloud computing across the Federal Government

  • Embrace collaboration with Vendors & standard bodies

  • Work with these organizations on pragmatic cloud projects, as and when appropriate

  • Use Capability and Operational patterns to validate operational impact of cloud interoperability

  • Identify key net-centric operations interoperability requirements and preferences within identified technical patterns

  • Iterate with NCOIC stakeholder companies and government organizations

  • Leverage analysis to drive cloud interoperability recommendations and best practices

In developing net-centric patterns for cloud computing, the working group will tackle four specific questions:

  • Which interoperability capabilities are supported by cloud computing?
    –E.g. Search, Intelligent Inference, Semantic Metadata Representation, Elastic Compute/Storage/Network infrastructure

  • Which interoperability challenges are mitigated by cloud computing?
    –E.g. Security, SLA management, Declarative Policies, Resource Monitoring & Usage

  • Which cloud computing structural elements require interoperability guidance?
    –E.g., organizations, policies, physical assets, different cloud postures

  • What operational & technical standards are relevant to interoperability problems in relevant operational scenarios?

The full presentation on this topic was given by Krishna Sankar during the recent SATCCI Spring 2009 Workshop for Federal Cloud Computing Stakeholders and is available online.

Monday, April 6, 2009

SUN-IBM Talks Breakdown

As reported in multiple sources today, including Reuters, Sun has apparently rejected a purchase offer by IBM.

"Shares of Sun Microsystems Inc tumbled 22.5 percent after it rejected a $7 billion buyout bid from IBM, leaving the smaller server and software maker vulnerable to lawsuits from shareholders nervous about its viability as a stand-alone company."

Part of the precipitous drop in share price was the realization that IBM-SUN threat to Microsoft dominance may no longer be a possibility.

(from Digital Journal)

"But the Sun cloud computing announcement also coincides with IBM's virtual desktop strategy that they brought to market late in 2008, bundling Lotus and other services to effectively strike at Microsoft. The IBM strategy, as reported in eWeek, would not only threaten Microsoft's desktop software, but delivers what many in the hardware manufacturing space have feared - cloud computing for the corporate enterprise IT market."

Since Sun probably needs an acquisition more than IBM, this was quite an interesting move.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Former DoT CIO on Cloud Computing

Last month, former Transportation Department CIO Dan Mintz offered his views on cloud computing to Eric Chabrow, Managing Editor of Government Information Security. According to Mr. Mintz, there is currently a debate raging within government circles on the safety of the wide use of cloud computing. "We're having a hard time to secure information without the cloud," Mintz says. He goes on to say that processes need to be first developed to determine which information is safe to be accessed over the Internet.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, NIST is actively working that issue right now by drafting a Cloud Computing Security Publication. (Once again I recommend reading Perspectives on Cloud Computing and Standards by Peter Mell and Tim Grance)

In the Government Information Security article, Former NSC counter terrorism director Paul Kurtz adds his views on the issue by saying that determining which information is safe to be accessed over the Internet shouldn't be a problem. He believes the savings to taxpayers to be significant by using software as a service applications and storing non-sensitive data in the clouds. His only concern is what he calls a "disruption in the sky", an Internet outage that would make access to information problematic. Still, he says, it worth doing and calls for lawmakers to address cloud computing in the regulatory reform legislation.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Second Government Cloud Computing Survey

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Sys-con International Cloud Computing Expo in New York City. My presentation, The View from Government Cloud Computing Customers, reviewed findings from the second Government Cloud Computing Survey. Sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, 1105 Media and Dataline, LLC, the purpose of this survey was to validate finding of the October 2008 survey and to see if the significant trends noted then had changed. Here are some of the highlights from the survey.

As expected, the respondents were mostly from the Federal government with 51% admitting that they new nothing about cloud computing. Industry respondent were clearly focused on the cloud with 66% claiming that they were very familiar with the topic. 

As in the earlier survey, datacenter and capital budget limitations seemed to be the driving force behind the government's interest in cloud computing.

As shown in the earlier survey, security remains the number one concern among these prospective cloud users.

Key survey conclusions were:
  • Federal government organizations exhibit the greatest level of interest in cloud computing although respondents indicate a lack of familiarity with the technology
  • Blog visitor statistics suggests a significant increase in interest from government and military organizations
  • The NCOIC  considers the emergence of cloud computing as an important development  worthy of focus investigation on behalf of it’s Government and Industry members
  • Leading drivers are consistent. Capital budget limitations and datacenter limitations
  • Cloud Computing Security remains the dominant concern
Although the survey didn't uncover any real surprises, it did reinforce a perception that cloud computing represents a very important focus of current government IT conversations.