December 10, 2009 By Steve Towns, Editor
It's hard to think of a technology trend that drew more attention in 2009 than cloud computing. Like Web 2.0 before it, the term quickly was attached to numerous projects and products - whether it belonged or not. And it doesn't help that cloud computing often was defined so loosely that it meant something different to each user.
But the hype shouldn't obscure the fact that real cloud computing initiatives started to gain a foothold in government.
"I do believe that the model is real, and more and more people are adopting it," said Georgia CIO Patrick Moore in an interview with Government Technology. "To an extent, all governments struggle with the same things. Maintaining and operating a sound infrastructure is very difficult in the government environment. I think a lot of people are going to be looking at cloud computing and the solutions cloud computing has to offer."
Of course, much attention around government's use of cloud computing was driven by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who championed the concept as an easier way for agencies to acquire the needed infrastructure and applications.
In September, Kundra began turning that concept into reality with the launch of Apps.gov, an online storefront where federal agencies can purchase hosted services from companies like Google and Salesforce.com. The site offers hosted business, productivity and social media applications.
Along with tracking the launch of Apps.gov, state and local governments kept an eye on a July RFP released by the U.S. General Services Administration which outlined requirements for commercial cloud computing and software-as-a-service offerings.
But state and local CIOs weren't just watching. They were launching cloud initiatives of their own.
One of 2009's biggest developments came in October, when the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to move the city's 30,000 employees to Google's Gmail and productivity tools. The decision - which capped months of furious lobbying by Google and Microsoft - could build momentum for other government agencies considering cloud computing for enterprisewide IT services.
L.A. is thought to be the first public-sector enterprise to choose Google's Web-based e-mail service, which is hosted by the company's massive network of offsite servers. Los Angeles officials expect the move to save $5.5 million over the length of the contract, reduce the number of servers needed for e-mail from 90 to a few dozen, and cut nine positions from the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency.
"[Gmail] is more than a way of the future; it's a way of the present," said city CIO Randi Levin, in pre-vote testimony to the City Council.
Cloud computing activity also heated up in several states over the summer.
Utah and Michigan announced plans to create "government clouds" that would provide hosted services to state agencies, local governments and schools. Utah CIO Steve Fletcher said public-sector clouds - operated by state IT departments - are a natural outgrowth of consolidation initiatives that are under way in many states.
"We're consolidating and virtualizing [state government servers] now. So from there, we will have all of our state agencies essentially virtualized - they'll be in the cloud," said Fletcher. "Then we will start to add local entities."
The plan envisions a "hybrid cloud" that provides a mix of state-hosted services and commercially provided offerings - but they would all be delivered through the Utah Department of Technology Services.
Meanwhile, Michigan hopes to begin a public-private data center project in October 2010 that would provide application hosting and managed services for any public entity in Michigan.
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