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At its most basic level, cloud computing allows users—from citizens to departmental employees to IT staff—to obtain computing capabilities through the Internet, regardless of their physical location.
Computing clouds are, in essence, online, supersized data centers containing tens of thousands of servers hosting Web applications. Cloud services from raw infrastructure to complete business processes can be purchased through Web interfaces and turned on and off as they are needed.
Characteristics of cloud services include:
Cloud computing lets organizations bypass the expense and lead time of buying, installing, operating, maintaining and upgrading the networks and computers found in data centers. Instead of licensing software, users tap into a service when it’s needed for as long as it’s needed. All that is required is a broadband Internet connection and a mobile device or personal computer with a browser to access and activate the cloud service.
Accenture has identified six key questions government decision makers should ask about the still-new phenomenon of cloud computing.
By focusing on these questions, government executives can narrow their inquiries and start to identify opportunities and risks that will affect their organizations.
The basic cloud technologies are well established and can be duplicated by any organization. That makes it possible for governments to build private clouds—restricted infrastructure that uses cloud computing technologies but is shared only by approved organizations. Private clouds can be used within single governments or possibly be shared by both local and central government departments.
Given the specific challenges that governments face around keeping data and processing in-country and security and data privacy restrictions, private clouds are likely to play a key role in the evolution of cloud computing for government organizations.
When compared to the commercial sector, government leaders face different challenges and will need to scrutinize their cloud decisions through their own distinctive lens. They need to consider the following:
Given the scale and diversity of IT environments across local and central governments, it is our view that private clouds are likely to play a key role in the evolution of cloud computing for governments. Adopting a cloud computing strategy that seamlessly integrates public and private cloud capabilities with legacy IT as part of the overall IT strategy could bring additional significant benefits and greater opportunities for success.
Governments need to consider which applications are suitable to run in the public cloud (e.g., non-sensitive data applications and development and test work), and which require a private cloud solution.
This hybrid approach would meet requirements for in-country processing and data privacy/security as well as lower costs, and improve services and efficiency by:
The three top benefits of cloud computing talked about today are cost, flexibility and speed to market.
Replace a large up-front capital expense with a low, pay-for-use operating expense; eliminate the cost of servers, software licenses, maintenance fees, data center space, electricity and IT labor.
Summon a cloud quickly, grow it by assigning more servers to a job, then make it shrink or disappear when no longer needed; well-suited for sporadic, seasonal or temporary work; for finishing tasks at lightning speed and processing vast amounts of data; and for software development and testing.
Create a software service using free or low-cost development tools and quickly make it available to all, potentially making government departments much more agile and responsive; a fast and easy way for organizations to impose a standard set of applications or processes. But these are just today’s benefits.
In the commercial sector, companies that have built massive clouds are already transforming the nature of competition. Governments may use cloud computing to make similar leaps—to transform the nature of cooperation. Possibilities include:
In addition, governments may start promoting clouds as a low-cost way to provide IT services to non-governmental organizations, community organizations or start-up businesses. In Japan, there is a plan to create a nationwide cloud computing infrastructure that could eventually host all Japanese government IT systems.
To make sure an organization maximizes benefits and minimizes risks of migrating from conventional to cloud computing, executives must:
Ultimately, the value of cloud computing will be measured in how it changes the fundamentals of providing government services. For example:
Asking the right questions is the place to start:
April 20, 2010
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