Jan 22 2011

Tomorrow's Forecast: Cloud Computing

Recently, while having a discussion about this year’s big trends in technology, someone asked me what exactly “the cloud” is. It’s not an easy question to answer.

Recently, while having a discussion about this year’s big trends in technology, someone asked me what exactly “the cloud” is. It’s not an easy question to answer.

References to cloud computing seem ubiquitous these days. But I still gave it a shot, saying that the cloud can mean any number of things, but it often refers to software as a service, hosting and managed services, private clouds built by organizations to bring their applications under one umbrella, etc. My answer definitely covered a lot of real estate, but I guess that’s what makes cloud computing so intriguing. It can fulfill many different needs for many different organizations.

I think the best way to define and effectively use the cloud, as with any technology, is by looking at how others are using those tools and then learning from their best practices for implementation, optimization and security.

One expert on the topic, Dawn Leaf, senior executive for cloud computing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, says that although the use of cloud computing is wide-ranging, the applications to utilize it are not.

“There are building-block technologies that are the foundation of cloud: These are virtualization, network capacity and the security infrastructure. All of this is, of course, provided by industry. One thing that’s an interesting point is that the agencies need these foundation technologies and capacities regardless of whether it’s a cloud model or not.”

To learn more about Leaf’s thoughts on cloud computing and the work NIST is doing to help with federal migration, turn to the FedTech Interview.

In Support of Science

Another interesting use of cloud computing is taking place at Energy Department labs near Chicago and San Francisco. Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are conducting experiments using a cloud computing test bed called the Magellan Project. It tests the feasibility of cloud computing for computational science.

Peter Beckman, director of Argonne’s Exascale Technology and Computing Institute, sums up what’s being examined with the labs’ cloud computing efforts and how they relate to Magellan’s experiments: “What parts of cloud computing are best-suited to solve the problems of science? Can it really help us understand how the universe works or how to reduce carbon emissions for the planet? How can I run my science on the cloud, and what are the best mechanisms for this?”

For more about cloud efforts at Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley, turn to “Private Sky.”

Don’t Neglect Your Backup

For many government IT shops, a chief optimization driver is continuity of operations. And when COOP’s a factor, a stable backup and storage environment typically plays a major role.

“The whole point of IT operations is getting applications and data to users. Being able to recover from any data loss is essential,” Gartner analyst Chris Wolf says. “Today’s IT operations have a different level of criticality. Having three days to get data and applications online is unacceptable, and by many standards, recovering within an hour or a day at most — and having reliable technology to manage that — is important.”

Getting Ready for the Cloud

For viewpoints, best practices and examples of how cloud computing is being utilized in federal government, don’t miss our FedTech webinar, “Getting Ready for the Cloud,” coming March 31. To register, go to fedtechmagazine.com/

For one Veterans Affairs Department healthcare region, this goal has been achieved through standardization of its back-end storage systems.

The payoff is both monetary and managerial, says the VA’s Vince May, who manages data storage needs for dozens of VA health facilities in the heart of the country.

“When you do standardization, and go out and buy hardware and software, you get discounts that you don’t see when you buy them individually,” he points out. Plus, “we can basically manage the whole backup infrastructure remotely.”

To read how VA and other agencies have fine-tuned their backup systems, turn to “Up to the Task.”

Ryan Petersen