It's still early in the adoption cycle, but we're beginning to see how U.S. federal agencies and other government users might employ cloud computing. Among the scenarios: cloud-bursting at sea by battleship groups, satellite imagery, and open source software development.I talked about the possibilities with Kevin Jackson, director of business development for Dataline, a systems integrator to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. Jackson is an ex-Navy pilot (he flew Hawkeye E-2C planes from aircraft carriers) and ex-IBMer (WebSphere sales) who is devising cloud computing solutions at Dataline.
So far, there aren't a lot of real-world examples of cloud computing in government, but Jackson points to a few. GeoEye, which provides satellite imagery to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and other intelligence, national security, and military clients, is using Appistry's cloud platform in lieu of its own data center to host its applications. And the DoD's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is using CollabNet's service to house DISA Forge, a software development community for building and testing DoD software.
Jackson says interest in cloud computing is high among government agencies, which see it as a way to cut costs and speed time to deployment. "There are requests for quotations and RFIs coming out, and we're responding to a lot of them," he says.
Drawing on his background flying Hawkeyes, Jackson envisions applying cloud computing design and principles to the systems in a Navy battle group. With physical space limited on ships, extra servers aren't an option, but there are times -- for computing modeling in the event of a nuclear attack, for example -- when on-demand processing power might be required. Jackson thinks the computer systems on 20 or 30 ships could be linked together for "cloud bursting" at sea.
Another potential use: flight-path modeling for unmanned air vehicles, or UAVs.
Cloud computing also may be applied in more mundane ways. The District of Columbia is making Google Apps available to municipal employees. And Jackson says public-facing government Web sites are prime candidates for Web hosting in the cloud. "They don't have restrictions with respect to security or communications, and they're interfacing to the public," he says.
Jackson provides other examples of government use of cloud computing on his Cloud Musings blog. Examples include the State Department's use of Salesforce.com for financial tracking and U.S. Census data made available in Public Data Sets on Amazon.
In partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton, Dataline is conducting a survey on cloud computing in government. Users and IT service providers can complete the survey here.
I'm interested in hearing about other examples of government use of the cloud. If you know of them, you can leave a comment here or e-mail me at [email protected].