Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No Forwarding Address

At the blog for Recovery.gov, White House Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra made a dramatic announcement about the kind of platform on which the data visualization site devoted to government transparency would be housed in the future: "Today, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board announced that it is moving Recovery.gov to the cloud. As the world’s largest consumer of information technology and as stewards of taxpayer dollars, the Federal Government has a duty to be a leader in pioneering the use of new technologies that are more efficient and economical."

What is interesting about this announcement is, of course, the lack of specifics, and the homey metaphor that followed about what cloud computing is.

For those of you not familiar with cloud computing, here is a brief explanation. There was a time when every household, town, or village had its own water well. Today, shared public utilities give us access to clean water by simply turning on the tap. Cloud computing works a lot like our shared public utilities. However, instead of water coming from a tap, users access computing power from a pool of shared resources. Just like the tap in your kitchen, cloud computing services can be turned on or off as needed, and, when the tap isn’t on, not only can the water be used by someone else, but you aren’t paying for resources that you don’t use. Cloud computing is a new model for delivering computing resources – such as networks, servers, storage, or software applications.

Note that citizens aren't told where precisely this cloud will be and whether or not government data will continue to be housed on government-owner servers. Those who worry about the so-called "Googlization of Government," like Siva Vaidhyanathan, may be concerned about the potential for a privatization model. Often cloud computing services provided by companies like Google to universities and other public institutions cause privacy, security, and accountability advocates to have concerns about this distributed model for managing the resources of server space. Here is a more complete definition of cloud computing that addresses some of these concerns.

Nonetheless, it sounds like Recovery.gov may well be the first of many government domains to move into the cloud.

Recovery.gov is the first government-wide system to move to the cloud. The move is part of the Administration’s overall efforts to cut waste and fix or end government programs that don’t work. By migrating to the public cloud, the Recovery Board is in position to leverage many advantages including the ability keep the site up as millions of Americans help report potential fraud, waste, and abuse. The Board expects savings of about $750,000 during its current budget cycle and significantly more savings in the long-term.

Update: Later in the week Kundra himself has admitted that the standards aren't yet ready for cloud computing adoption by the government.

Further Update: Recovery.gov had a radical online makeover this week, one which took away its blog and blog-style layout and emphasized the idea of citizens uploading photographs to Flickr that depict recovery projects launched during the Obama administration.



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