By one of those interesting coincidences in life, I had two subsequent calls with two different US vendors that provide consulting and system integration services to the US federal government. The topic of the call was cloud computing (what else?), and how to help federal agencies respond to the Cloud First requirement set in the 25 point plan by the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Federal Cloud Strategy (see Gartner research note “U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy Is a Good Start, but Hardly Future-Proof” – client access required).
Shortly after the calls I took two diagrams that the vendors had sent to summarize their offering around cloud, and put them next to each other. Their service portfolios, the way they grouped cloud-focused services, and the sequencing of those were so similar that I could almost superimpose the two diagrams and see very few differences. I found that interesting, since these two vendors are very different from each other in terms of size, posture, footprint with federal government.
Then I thought about other large vendors I have been talking to, who are positioning themselves as cloud providers. Everybody today seems to recognize that most clients will use hybrid solutions, and are articulating an offering ranging from providing appliances that clients can install in their data center (hence creating something like a private cloud), through some form of government cloud (i.e. data centers that the vendor or its partners run in compliance with government security requirements), to public clouds for low-level security workloads.
The end game is for most of them to provide clients with ways to use and manage all these resources pretty much transparently, i.e. irrespective of whether they are formally part of a private, a community or a public cloud.
This is the vision that most share, but of course they are all pretty far from delivering on it. Also, there has to be a fair amount of standardization work taking place to make sure that truly hybrid clouds (i.e. with different vendors involved) can be managed as seamlessly and painlessly as possible.
The reality of today, though, is that vendors reshape and restructure their offering by painting it in cloud. Most of what we are seen today is something that has already happened in the past. Appliances have been used for quite some time by application and search vendors. What we call today software as a service has been sold by application service providers (ASPs) at the peak of the dot.com boom. The use of remote infrastructure as a service is something dating back to my early days as a programmer, using punched cards or an old TTY terminal to access a computing center shared by a number of universities. The sharing of infrastructure, data and application across different government organizations is something we have seen with shared services for many years in several countries.
Of course technology has evolved, but what we are seeing in terms of usage and deployment models looks déjà vu.
What is really going to change the game is – as I said – a seamless and painless way of dealing with disparate computing resources as a coherent whole. Being able to be scalable and elastic not only with those resources, but also with vendors, switching from one to another on the basis of price and performance. Moving from the concept of government application store, to a government cloud exchange, where capacity as well as capabilities are traded (almost) as a commodity.
The other piece of innovation that is an as-yet unfulfilled promise of cloud is how to leverage efficiency, agility and innovation for measurable business impact. For instance, if I free a certain amount of staff from operational tasks, how easy (or even possible) is it to redeploy that same staff on business-critical tasks? In other terms, how can agencies apply concepts like scalability and elasticity to their own human resources (assuming that governments are not going to be fully outsourced any time soon)?
I do hope that vendors that are doing a good job at playing catch-up with the cloud aspirations and mandates of some governments, will be able to help them and others understand and plan the transition to where and when cloud will be able to release its true transformational payload.
But we are not yet there, not even close.