Cloud Computing in Government

Without a doubt Cloud Computing is going to open up a whole new world of possibilities. Looking through the volumes that have already been written about Could Computing this quote is often referenced when talking about the business impact:

What happened to the generation of power a century ago is now happening to the processing of information. Private computer systems, built and operated by individual companies, are being supplanted by services provided by a common grid — the Internet — by centralized data-processing plants. Computing is turning into a utility, and once again the economic equations that determine the way we work and live are being rewritten.
Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch – Rewiring the World from Edison to Google, 2008

Great punchy analogy; however I think it is far too simplistic to compare computing power to the creation of electricity.  The business decision to either run your own generator or buy in electricity in is pretty binary, there are only a few situations that warrant both (normally when people’s lives are at stake).  However computing is a far more complex beast, computing power can exist on everything from high end servers to phones and can be used in offices, home, in the streets, underwater, airplanes – it is a far more complex scenario. 

I think Cloud computing can be seen in the same way as we moved from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. People did not throw out all of their existing ideas, processes and tools; and different areas of the world moved at different rates.  Some things were left alone, some things were enhanced, some things were replaced, and it opened up possibilities to design new things that were previously not possible.  Bronze has not gone anywhere, we still use it today – but it is complemented with other metals each with its own strengths, weaknesses and costs. 

We need to understand how cloud computing fits, where it should be used and sometimes more importantly where it should not be used.  As we become more comfortable with it, and as we better understand its strengths and weaknesses we will adopt it more.  Don’t get me wrong, Cloud Computing will be huge, but it is not going to replace everything we have.

OGDI One area where I see Governments utilising Cloud Computing for its strengths is hosting public data, as it not affected by the data sovereignty issues.  There have been a number of initiatives in the UK and US (if anyone has any international examples, please reply with them).  This latest example is the 'Open Data Government Initiative' from Microsoft, showing how a Government can host public data on the Azure platform.  The code to do this is going to be released as open source on Microsoft’s Open Source site CodePlex so that people can get their hands on it.

The site currently shows US data that is publically available, and in the era of Gov 2.0 and greater transparency it is good to see more and more examples of this.