June 26, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Over the past few weeks, I've dedicated significant time and energy to learning more about the latest trends in cloud computing. I've been listening to analyst podcasts, watching webcasts and reading hot new articles and white papers from the best and brightest. As expected, opinions vary. The funny thing is, experts who are looking at the very same cloud often come to surprisingly different conclusions.
Just when I'm almost won over to a supporting point of view for some near-term action, along comes a great war story of a scary storm in the clouds. Our current situation reminds me of that well-known adage: "Red sky in morning, sailors warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight." So you tell me: is it morning or evening for cloud computing?
On the positive side, the web is full of cloud opportunities. A google search will yield over 30 million page views, and most of them are positive examples. Virtually every technology company has cloud offerings with free white papers on the topic. Government Technology Magazine has many stories on the cloud, and they recently offered an excellent video interview on this topic with Vivek Kundra, who starts by saying, "Everything is going to be in the cloud."
So what am I reading on the hesitant side? Start with this article in Business Week entitled: Busting Cloud Computing Myths. Pay attention to "Myth No. 7: A cloud provider can guarantee security - Even if a cloud provider has every security certification in the book, that's no guarantee your specific servers, apps, and networks are secure."
The next article takes the storm clouds a bit further with: Is cloud computing inherently evil? Here's an interesting quote from an interview with Brad Templeton:
"The 4th amendment protects your personal data when it's in your house, and other places where you have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" to use the legal term. Unfortunately, the courts have ruled that you put information in the hands of 3rd parties, even if only for a very specific purpose, you can lose that expectation. So the DOJ regularly acts to seize data in 3rd party hands without warrants -- for example from webmail providers -- and this will surely expand to all sorts of cloud data."
I could go much further, but I suspect you get the point. You can find plenty of pro and con articles for cloud computing - and both sides have excellent stories to prove they're right. I often ask myself if anyone can be truly neutral in this (or numerous other) technology topics. We all have our biases before the first vendor powerpoint slide comes up.
On a recent call, one of my customers said, "All I want is cheap and secure."
The analyst responded, "You can't have both. You can have one or the other."
I doubt if there is a single right or wrong answer to this cloud question. The debate reminds me of non-stop (fun) arguments as a child. Growing up in Baltimore, I would spar with my dad, brothers and friends about who would finish first in Major League Baseball's American League East. (This was back in the 70s when the Orioles typically finished at or near the top every year.) As avid fans, each of us could argue for or against Boston, New York or Baltimore, but only time would ultimately answer that year's question.
I'm not suggesting the cloud debate is fruitless. In fact, I think each of us needs to built a government strategy that includes a plan for cloud computing. But there are always going to be technology leaders, followers and laggards. Every situation has different politics, funding, people, culture, levels of technical sophistication and other variables.
My main point is that I am suspicious of those who eagerly push for or against cloud computing as "red hot." No doubt, the weather is hot and the cloud is red. But is it morning or evening for cloud computing?
What are your thoughts?
June 19, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
A few months ago we held a one day management offsite which included some inspiring words from the top, a great (but free) motivational speaker, a Q/A open mike, a brainstorming session and updates on significant projects from across our enterprise. For the project updates, I challenged our infrastructure directors to come up with creative, entertaining and fun ways to present the required information and still keep everyone interested. No one wanted "death by powerpoint" after a big lunch.
The entire team exceeded my expectations with funny skits, short videos, surprising pictures, and yes a few powerpoints slides that got across the information and intrigued the audience. One of the "no budget" videos was extremely well-done with slow-motion, music and more. I was blown-away by the talent in the group, and the teams even used their own home equipment. After the event, I starting thinking about how to capture that energy and continue to motivate and train the rest of our IT staff during these tough economic times when training budgets have been cut and out-of-state travel has been eliminated.
Fast-forward two months and check-out our Michigan Department of Information Technology (MDIT) Service Management Center (SMC) Training Video. This YouTube video actually achieves five significant objectives for us:
1) Offers new staff a short (6-minute) overview of how we manage technology with the SMC processes and procedures.
2) Offers (very low cost) improved training for exisiting staff who are asked to read and understand fairly long (and somewhat boring) manuals on processes and procedures regarding how we manage incidents, what's a critical system, why the "red card" is so important, why we have a morning "day start" call, etc.
3) Shows our customers how we keep an "eye on government" in a 7x24x365 manner. We also discuss emergency response (for situations like virus outbreaks) at the SMC. The YouTube video offers an inexpensive form of communication and marketing for MDIT.
4) Motivates staff. Help them understand the importance of what they do every day. YouTube and other new media channels are now the manner in which information is typically consumed for many in society.
5) Brings our "way of life" in managing technology in Michigan to life for others. Videos with real people portray a story much easier than white papers or training manuals.
From a broader perspective, government technology professionals must be using new media to our advantage during these challenging budget times. Ken Theis, our MDIT Director and Michigan CIO, has articulated a vision for an online "MDIT University" which will provide our staff free (or very low-cost) technical training on various tracks from a myriad of Internet sources. All of these courses and training opportunities can be tracked in one portal to match indivdualized employee career advancement plans and professional interests.
We're living in a time when our children and staff are uploading videos and pictures onto Internet sites every day at home. In my opinion, we can't afford not to use YouTube and other "hot" technology tools at work for training and other professional purposes.
At a time when MIT is offering over 1900 free courses online, we must relook at training. Likewise, Yale and many other universities are doing the same. There is even an iTunes university which enables mobile learning. The number of free webcasts, webinars and other technical training opportunities is exploding right now, and CxOs need to be taking advantage of what is cheap and free.
What are you thoughts on low-cost training? Have you created your own government YouTube videos? Can you please share links in the comments section?
I'd also love to hear your views on our SMC YouTube video. (Remember that it was done in-house with a $0 budget.)
June 14, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
I was sitting in the back of the auditorium inside the Michigan State University's Kellogg Center in East Lansing. The event was the Michigan Broadband Summit, sponsored by the Library of Michigan and the American Library Association. The seats around me were full with a mix of government representatives, community stakeholders and librarians from around Michigan and surrounding states.
The first speaker started off with the question, "How many of you have enough bandwidth?" A few hands went up while a couple of others started chuckling.
The opportunities seem endless. New online applications, fixing the digital divide and even advances for electronic libraries like the Michigan Electronic Library (MEL). To get a good sense for the many issues and options available to Michigan and the nation regarding broadband connectivity and the stimulus dollars, I urge you to download and review the excellent powerpoint slides offered by John Windhausen Jr. from Telepoly Consulting.
Four of John's main points include:
1) Broadband has become an essential service.
2) Broadband demand is exploding.
3) Industry is investing less than what America needs (microeconomics trumping macroeconomics).
4) The US is falling behind our international competitors.
Through a series of examples including voice, education, energy and TV, he makes the point that broadband is not only "AN" essential service, but "THE" essential service to enable all the others in the future.
I encourage you to review the rest of Windhausen's material, but more important, don't forget the libraries and other government partners as you prepare a broadband strategy in your state, county, township or city. There are synergies that will build upon these relationships over time, and we can't afford to leave out important educational services that people depend upon. Citizens will expect high-speed connectivty at their local libraries, and most don't have enough bandwidth today.
Any thoughts on this library broadband topic?
June 7, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Are we truly at a significant crossroads in the protection of our Nation's critical infrastructure? More specifically, will the cross-sector cyber infrastructure issues now be addresed with a sense of urgency and be given the required resources to build-in the required 21st century security protections? Have the many state and local government computer infrastructure issues become a real priority? I'm now more optimistic.
What modified my opinion? We held our second annual Michigan Cyber Security Summit in Lansing this week, and I was honored and privileged to introduce and interview Harry D. Raduege, Jr., Lt. General, USAF (Ret) as part of an extended keynote session at the end of the day. Not only was I impressed with his words, I was motivated and encouraged by his unique perspective.
General Raduege's very impressive military career included several years as Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). He is currently the Chairman of the Deloitte Center for Network Innovation, and he was recently the co-chair for the Center for Strategic and International Study's (CSIS's) Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44 th Presidency.
After his initial remarks, our conversation centered on the recently released results of the 60-day Cyberspace Policy Review which has received a huge amount of media attention. The General covered the background on these issues, the link between the Commission's findings and the Policy Review, and the near and mid-term actions to be taken.
Two of my questions included: "Why is this a crossroads? How is this situation different than before?"
General Raduege responded by describing with passion the billions of dollars we are losing to organized cyber crime. He articulated a strong business case, and he provided scary facts regarding illegal access to both private sector and government networks over the past few years. These were figures that I knew from press reports and from meetings with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies and states over the past seven years.
But the General's answers intrigued me the most when he described President Obama's passion for this issue at the recent release of the 60-day Cyberspace Policy Review at the White House. He sat a few feet away from the President during the event, and General Raduege told us that a new focus was evident. This inside perspective came from a decorated career cyber expert with a great reputation.
At a post-event reception, several colleagues commented that General Raduege's passion was contagious.
So I went home and took another look. Yes, I had already read the 60-day Cyberspace Review, but after the session, I reread most sections through a different lens. The Review's actual title is easy to overlook: "Assuring a Trusted and Resilient Information and Communications Infrastructure." I had previously skipped over the preface to get to the "beef," but think about these important words from the preface:
"... But with the broad reach of a loose and lightly regulated digital infrastructure, great risks threaten nations, private enterprises, and individual rights. The government has a responsibility to address these strategic vulnerabilities.
The architecture of the Nation's digital infrastructure, based largely upon the Internet, is not secure or resilient. Without major advances in the security of these systems or significant change in how they are constructed or operated, it is doubtful that the United States can protect itself from the growing threat of cybercrime and state-sponsored intrusions and operations...."
More than the detailed action steps, these words are powerful. If acted upon, they show a new commitment that will greatly impact state and local government in many infrastructure sectors. Many computer issues need to be addressed from broadband Internet access to health IT to protecting airlines.
(One side note, the Air France 447 story printed in the United Kingdon (UK) on Sunday demonstrates the critical importance of computer infrastructure to all aspects of transportation. Even though "foul play" may have no part in that plane accident, if this computer crash theory is true, the role of computers will be under a spotlight once again.)
The skeptics will likely say that all of the words in the new cyber plan are nice, but we need action. There is no doubt that I have heard and read much of this over the past few years, without significant change across the country at the state and local level. There is certainly much to do, and more dollars are needed.
Still, I am encouraged that this issue is now a top priority in DC. I am also more convinced that additional resources will be applied to this urgent set of infrastructure problems. Whether this will be seen as a "Berlin Wall falling" type of moment or a significant cyber crossroads will be determined by the actions we take going forward. I think the Bush Administration understood the importance of this issue very late in their term, but the momentum which began last year seems to be growing. This topic should continue to have bipartisan support going forward.
In conclusion, I urge you to reread the 60-day review as I did. But as you read, think of the resolve that our Nation had in the 18th and 19th centuries as we faced "threats foreign and domestic." General Raduege's words challenged me to think of our 21st century cyber threats as needing that same kind of united resolve and unity of purpose.
Yes, I knew most of the cyber attack facts and figures before, but now I am more inspired to believe that positive change is coming. Thank you General Raduege for your service and for coming to Lansing. You brought the "inside the beltway" words to life in Michigan.
What are your thoughts? Is this a cyber infrastructure crossroads?
Building effective virtual government requires new ideas, innovative thinking and hard work. From federal stimulus projects to enterprise architectures to cloud computing, Dan Lohrmann will discuss what's hot and what's not in the world of technology infrastructure.