In the nearly 20 years I've been covering IT and government, the one constant truth has been the ongoing tension between what technology promises to deliver and what government can actually deliver. There's no better example than today's hottest IT trend: cloud computing.

Almost as soon as the model for on-demand computing in the Internet cloud was presented to the CIO community, analysts, vendors and the media (including this magazine) began forecasting a new dawn for government computing. No longer would tax dollars have to be spent on fat-client PCs, server farms in the basement of every agency and bloated software licenses. Instead, workers would compute at the flip of a switch and government would only pay for IT when it needed it. Meanwhile, CIOs would focus on IT strategy and alignment, not maintenance and networks. Over time, IT costs would drop, the public wouldn't be as disgruntled about taxes, and politicians would be a little happier with the revenue still sitting in the treasury at the end of the day.

Like so much to do with technology and government over the past 20 years, the reality of cloud computing isn't, well, quite so clear (OK, no more weather puns). As our story on the subject in this issue of Public CIO points out, cloud computing isn't just a cost control issue, nor is it a panacea to what ails IT in the public sector today. Instead, there are degrees of cloud computing that require knowledge about its capabilities and limitations before it can become a solution. Opportunities exist, but CIOs must weigh the tradeoffs before plunging ahead.

Hopefully our coverage will open a few doors to experimentation - after all, cloud computing at the fringes, using simple downloadable Google applications, for example, costs nothing. And as the article suggests, more government entities are implementing robust, in-the-cloud solutions that strip away the expensive ownership of so much hardware and software.

Look to our Web site for more information as well. What we can't put into print, we can provide online, including a dialog on the concerns about security in the cloud with our resident IT security blogger and commentator Dan Lohrmann. In the end, however, the most valuable lesson learned from cloud computing and other technology trends isn't about how solutions are delivered, but what is delivered to citizens. That's what mattered 20 years ago, and it's what will still matter in another 20 years.

Tod Newcombe, Editor  |  Editor, Public CIO