Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Romancing the Cloud

The “Cloud Economics 101” panel discussion at yesterday’s Government Cloud Computing conference in Washington, DC created a fascinating juxtaposition between the industry’s top thought leaders and the government IT executives still struggling with how the cloud applies to their specific needs.

Let’s start with the vendors with representatives on the panel -- EMC, Cisco, Intel, VMware, Terremark and Lockheed Martin. Combined, these market leaders represent billions of dollars in annual IT, network and security spending by government and corporate customers. (Full disclosure: I attended yesterday’s panel discussion as a guest of EMC.)

The panelists did a superb job outlining the business case for cloud adoption, including:

1. Maintaining continuity of operations (COOP) when faced with a natural disaster, terrorist act or other form of disruption. Just consider the impact this week of flooding in Nashville on business and government activities.

2. Managing costs and ensuring reliability in an environment often defined by unpredictable computing requirements. EMC’s Tim Harder used the term “burst-ability” to describe a customer’s ability to tap into additional computing resources via the cloud, as needed.

3. Embracing a more green or sustainable IT environment through a reduction in power consumption.

4. Realizing the capability, feature and cost benefits from the economies of scale approach a cloud provider can deliver. The vendor is able to make more frequent financial investments in their infrastructure because the costs are spread across a myriad of customers and/or users.

When it came time for Q&A, many of the attendee inquiries focused on more pedestrian issues, such as how to justify the move to the cloud to internal decision-makers and ways to mitigate the cultural issues that arise with any enterprise shift.

One attendee asked, “Do we have to fire all of our IT people?”

Understandably, the issue of security was also a hot topic of discussion because of profile incidents that have plagued government agencies.

Panelist Barry Sheward of Lockheed Martin who has an extensive security background suggested that cloud computing can actually improve an organization’s security because of the management function.

EMC’s Harder brought the panel discussion to a close with a suggestion for attendees who have yet to adopt cloud computing in their environment.

“Select an application to become cloud-enabled and measure return on investment,” he said. “View this as a test to establish a baseline your agency can then use to evaluate how to best incorporate the cloud into your operations.”

EMC's Tim Harder and Alex Hart of VMware chat at the conclusion of the panel discussion.

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