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Commentary: Beware 'dead end clouds'

Effective cloud collaboration relies on open standards

Oct. 13, 2013 - 02:06PM   |  
By ANNE ALTMAN   |   Comments

Governments are rethinking ways to communicate and create a more open, transparent and collaborative environment so agencies, departments and officials can share information in a manner that will better serve citizens. And they are embracing technologies that will enable them to accomplish this cost effectively and efficiently.

With cloud technology quickly becoming the transformative delivery platform, the federal government needs to make sure it is not building “dead end clouds” that could stifle this collaboration.

Take the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, which among other things provides federal, state and local agencies real-time access to geospatial data during a natural disaster and helps process claims from those affected.

During the height of storm season or a major disaster, certain agencies need to easily share this data and prepare to quickly process thousands of claims. This might require more computing power, and cloud computing could fit that bill as need ebbs and flows.

But what if FEMA wanted to tap into a sister agency’s existing cloud investment and collaborate or “borrow” some computing power? This would only be possible if both agencies pursued an open standards-based approach to building their cloud using a platform like OpenStack.

In the early days of any new technology, proprietary innovations tend to gain the most attention and take an early share, but ultimately, open standards-based computing catches up to and surpasses those proprietary, closed and often more expensive methods of computing. We are at that same place with cloud computing, as some proprietary methods are finding their ways into the government’s cloud computing build-out of mission critical applications.

I’m concerned these early implementations will themselves stifle innovation and collaboration in cloud computing for the federal government.

By embracing cloud and social technologies, government data can be made more accessible while arming policymakers, government officials and citizens with new methods of collaboration, participation and interaction.

Agency officials who see the cloud as the common platform for mobile, big data and other key technology trends can share the government’s wealth of valuable data securely, making the nation’s data resources accessible from everywhere.

And the key to this exchange of information in the cloud is embracing an “open” platform that transforms the way this information is shared. This drive to innovate is breaking down historical barriers to interagency collaboration and partnering, sharing services, and pooling of resources. Furthermore, to continually explore, experiment and create capabilities quickly will be more critical than ever as citizens face more uncertainty and complexity in the national and global economies.

But to make government data available for a wide variety of applications and initiatives, the many clouds used by each government entity must first be able to communicate with and interact with one another. The more standardization we have, the better government agencies will be able to integrate and innovate across clouds and collaborate.

Open standards in cloud computing not only provide integration, but also break down the barriers between these clouds within government agencies.

This is a momentous time, as federal agencies are making their first investments in cloud computing and preparing for the disruptive shift in how information is delivered and shared with government officials, employees and citizens. Early adopters are already realizing the importance of this, knowing that the innovation that comes with open technologies can dramatically change the way we address and solve global issues such as climate change, natural disasters and pandemics.

The federal government is at a crossroads to choose the right path to take with cloud computing — one that will need to support the increasing demands of a growing population and the challenge of exploding data.

And the increasing momentum in this evolution towards an open cloud will only create a more efficient, citizen-centric government and ultimately, a better society. ■

Anne Altman is general manager of IBM US Federal.

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