“Whether we like it or not, we live in interesting times!”
That quote from Robert Kennedy seems to resonate more than ever, especially in the world of government technology. For government IT teams, this is a time of significant opportunity coupled with enormous challenges. On the one hand, there’s a renewed sense that government technology and innovation will have a positive impact on the economy. Citizens have high expectations and are looking for new ways to engage and participate. At the same time, we will remember this period in our history as a time of fiscal crises and global uncertainty. Government IT decision-makers must work against a backdrop of economic turbulence and intense pressure to control costs.
Government CIOs in particular are being asked to maintain a delicate balancing act. For example, how do you balance the public’s demand for fast, transparent access to information versus the need for robust security and privacy? The need to streamline internal agency operations versus the mandate to collaborate and share data across multiple agencies? The drive to provide new services versus the need to reduce IT spending?
Here’s the ray of light that I find most encouraging: We have an opportunity to work together across the public and private sectors to rewrite the next chapter — as one of technological leadership and global advancement.
I shared this perspective recently at the Enterprise Architecture 2009 event in Washington, D.C.
When you consider both the promise and the inherent challenges in government IT, there’s no question that cloud computing has a central role to play going forward. Cloud computing is a nascent market at present and we have a lot of work to do as an industry to address key barriers to broad adoption of cloud within government agencies. But before we get to that, let’s explore the basic question: why cloud?
In its simplest form Cloud computing is when IT resources and services are abstracted from the underlying infrastructure and provided “on demand” and “at scale” in a multi-tenant environment. If you think about it, cloud computing is the most network-centric computing architecture ever, in that it relies on the network to deliver IT value and functionality.
In our ongoing discussions with government CIOs, flexibility is the biggest advantage they see in moving to the cloud model. Cloud computing promises to enable a new level of elasticity in IT via on-demand resource allocation and dynamic provisioning — not to mention faster application deployment. Cost is the other big advantage with cloud computing, especially the opportunity to reduce CapEx spending, since you are essentially outsourcing IT hardware to the cloud.
But if you’re managing IT for a government agency, there are some significant limitations relative to the cloud model that must be addressed. Perhaps most important, we must develop a trusted approach to cloud computing. Without trust, the economics and increased flexibility enabled by the cloud make little difference. Trust in cloud computing centers on four core concepts ― these are the challenges that keep government IT people up at night and these are areas we are working to address across Cisco:
Security – Traditional issues around data and resource access control, encryption and incident detection
Control – The ability of the agency to directly manage how and where data and software is deployed, used and destroyed
Service-Level Management – The definition, contracting and enforcement of service level agreements among a variety of parties involved
Compliance – Conformance with required regulatory, legal and general industry requirements (such as PCI, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley)
The key for every IT organization is to evolve to the cloud while leveraging their current assets and investments. Agencies simply do not have the luxury of throwing away today’s infrastructure and applications in favor of new architectures.
We are already working with a variety of organizations to build what we call private clouds. Private clouds combine a cloud operating system with Cisco’s cloud internetworking technology portfolio to link agency and service provider resources into a single agency-managed cloud environment. This cloud is then available to any device, anywhere via standard TCP/IP networking technologies. Importantly, the cloud also gives IT the ability to reach out and leverage the resources of cloud service providers. Private Clouds fundamentally change the dynamic between IT and the rest of the organization by reducing inefficiencies and increasing the rate of business innovation.