Yesterday, in a speech given at the NASA Ames Research Center (watch it on YouTube), the US federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced the launch of Apps.gov, the GSA storefront to give federal agencies access to cloud services. This has been in the making for a while and the launch was originally scheduled during the Gov 2.0 Summit on 9-10 September.
The launch has created a big buzz on the Internet, with hundreds of tweets, blog posts, articles mostly supportive of this new initiative. The storefront provides access to four categories of services: business applications (including CRM, ERP), productivity applications (such as collaboration, office suites), infrastructure services (such as storage, virtual machines, web hosting) and social software.
This is part of a three-leg strategy, including also budgetary focus (to support a number of pilots on cloud computing for collaboration and lightweight workflows in 2010 and to provide guidance to agencies to adopt cloud computing in 2011) and policy planning & architecture (addressing centralized certification, security, privacy, etc.)
I do certainly join other people who congratulate GSA and OMB for this achievement. However I’d like to offer some initial observations about areas for improvement and clarification:
- All the available applications are for the so-called “public cloud”, so they can be used where agencies have no need to control where data are being located. I do not know yet (and I am trying to ascertain) whether licenses for products currently on the store provide any guarantee about data location. I assume this was part of how those applications were selected, but it is not clearly explained in the site, nor in its (relatively succinct) FAQ section.
- It is not clear whether prices are monthly, per user or what. It would be better to make it clear upfront without requiring users to find it out following the links to different products.
- Vendors like salesforce.com and Google are predominant. While this probably reflects market maturity and is meant as a stimulus to other vendors to catch up, it looks a bit weird from a public procurement perspective, as some may read this as an endorsement of those two vendors. However in his address, Kundra mentioned other vendors (such as Microsoft or Adobe) that will soon join the storefront.
- The infrastructure services section is still empty, as there is a GSA RFQ out, which concerns the procurement of public cloud infrastructure services. It may be worthwhile providing a pointer to the RFQ from apps.gov itself, so that agencies start familiarize with different categories of services.
The real battlefield, though, is going to be around the so-called “private” and “community” cloud models. It is interesting that the launch took place at the NASA Ames Research Center, which is also known for its own cloud infrastructure initiative (code-named Nebula). Vivek was very complimentary of what NASA Ames has achieved and highlighted it will have its role in the government “private” or “community” cloud infrastructure. However it is a fact that moving from acquiring new apps or external computing capacity that meet new requirements, to rationalizing existing workloads and balancing them across previously siloed infrastructures (currently managed through a variety of sourcing models) is a totally different challenge.
Budgetary and policy planning measures on security, privacy and procurement, will definitely help, but it is the enterprise-wide governance bit where most shared service initiatives have failed or struggled in the past. Why should the federal cloud initiative be any different?