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Federal Cloud Strategy: 10 Case Studies

The White House has instructed agencies to think 'cloud first' for new IT requirements. Here's how government CIOs are making the transition.

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Cloud In Action As government agencies get deeper into cloud computing, it has become clear there's no standard way of doing it. There are various models--private, public, shared, government clouds from commercial providers--and hundreds of usage scenarios.

Government CIOs, CTOs, and IT architects are comparing notes on the costs and benefits of different approaches, how to grant permissions and secure data, and how to align their cloud road maps with their data center consolidation projects.

Many of the federal government's top cloud strategists came together at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington on Oct. 25 to share best practices. The event, GovCloud 2011, hosted by InformationWeek, included sessions on cloud security, private and public clouds, platforms as a service, real-world cloud apps, and the lessons agencies have learned broadly. Following are 10 cloud case studies as presented by some of the federal government's top technologists. As you'll see, most are past the planning stage and in the early phases of implementation. And all still have a long way to go.

1. At The CIA, Cloud = Scale

"I have a petascale problem and need a petascale solution," says Gus Hunt, CTO of the Central Intelligence Agency. Cloud computing, with its ability to scale dynamically to meet growing workloads, is the solution he has in mind.

The CIA is in the early going with cloud computing, but Hunt sees great potential, including the cloud's ability to serve as a shared resource. Cloud services make it possible "to deliver capabilities we weren't able to deliver before at a scale and price and agility level we were never able to do before," he says.

Given the sensitive nature of its work, the CIA is predisposed to private clouds. The CIA has several of them, which Hunt describes as "highly specific environments for highly specific workloads." As a next step, he envisions building a general-purpose cloud for a variety of applications and supporting work the CIA does with other Intelligence Community agencies.

Hunt points to a handful of attributes that will drive adoption: service automation; elastic, commodity computing resources; massive capacity; the cloud's built-for-speed design; and "ruthless" standardization.

The cloud's ability to host terabytes, even petabytes of data will help the CIA analyze patterns in intelligence data much as a company might use it to crunch data on consumer trends. As a platform for big data, the cloud will help "grow the haystack and magnify the needles," Hunt says.

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