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US Government to Increasingly Shift to Cloud-Based Services

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By Christopher Morris, Tech Commentator

The growing significance – and increasing economic and computing significance of the cloud – is still lost on many sectors of the general population. It comes across as a mysterious, somewhat enigmatic technology, of which many people neither understand the benefits or the rationale behind switching to it. Of course, to the initiated, the advantages of cloud computing are obvious, with the ability to store or process vast amounts of data without needing to purchase appropriate storage equipment offering significant financial savings to both businesses and individuals.

With two-billion broadband users dotted around the globe, it goes without saying that there is a huge market for this technology. While it has yet to be taken up a large scale at the home user level – although websites such as Dropbox are becoming increasingly popular – it is generally presumed that this will increase exponentially in the coming years. But corporate clients are already embracing this technology in droves, and the history of IT, in common with many other industrial fields, tells us that large private sector businesses ultimately usually drive consumer behaviour.

…the history of IT[…] tells us that large private sector businesses ultimately usually drive consumer behaviour.

As businesses increasingly shift to third-party data storage in data centres managed by IT specialists, and adopt cloud computing as a matter of course, the accessibility of cloud computing will become more feasible to the average home computer user, as corporate uptake slowly but surely drives the price down and helps assist in the development of the technology. This has been a common meme with many previous technologies; the corporate sector drives its adoption and economic model, before the everyday consumer gets on board when its price point and availability reaches an acceptable level. In our technology-driven contemporary society, this process is typically much faster than it once was.

However, while the extent to which cloud computing is expected to evolve business and home computing is widely acknowledged, there is a third major interest which is also looking to participate in this technological revolution as well. Government entities are now also looking to jump on the cloud computing bandwagon, and this prospect raises many questions at the level of both state and general public.

It should be noted firstly that this is a perfectly logical move, particularly given the historical links between the public sector and the Internet. It is widely known that the original Internet was eventually born thanks to military investment and research back in the 1960s. Thus, this now very commercial technology has its roots very firmly in public sector investment.

Government entities are now also looking to jump on the cloud computing bandwagon…

Naturally in these austere times, government agencies and departments are constantly looking for ways to save money and cut costs. In this regard, shifting as many of their functions and services as possible to the cloud might seem like facile common sense. It is perfectly natural for the government at both local and federal level to see optimised business models which incorporate mass data storage by specialised units, thus negating the need for government to purchase expensive, and perishable, IT equipment on a mass scale.

Already there are numerous government entities in the United States that have taken up the cloud computing baton. To maintain the military-industrial theme, there has been a strong armed forces identity to the early adopters, with the US Army, Air Force and Navy all adopting cloud-based services, and other departments such as the Department of Justice, US Development Agency, and the Department of Education following suit, with many more expected to follow in the coming years.

The US government is promoting this concept as a way to greatly streamline, and ultimately, improve government services… “maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness, and minimize cost”.

The US government is promoting this concept as a way to greatly streamline, and ultimately, improve government services. This is a noble concept, of course, and quite possibly a feasible and achievable one. In accordance with this policy, the US federal government has adopted the ‘Cloud First’ policy, in order to manage the systematic move to cloud-based services. This policy “mandates that agencies take full advantage of cloud computing benefits to maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness, and minimize cost.” The focus in the early days of the scheme will be on shared services for government agencies, with the delivery of services for the populace likely to increasingly follow as the systems become consolidated.

This offers a great deal of potential for more joined-up services to be delivered by government, and many will believe that anything which reduces government bureaucracy, red tape and spending can only be a good thing. Perhaps the only thorny issue to be dealt with that will be of interest many is the issue of privacy. In the shadow of some of the less admirable revelations about the National Security Agency, this will be an issue of concern many Americans, and it is something that will have to be satisfactorily addressed before the public is ready to embrace cloud-based government services.