In an statement today on the Whitehouse blog, Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer, announced the launch of Apps.gov, “an online storefront for federal agencies to quickly browse and purchase cloud-based IT services.”
Apps.gov is not a government built and managed computing environment available to all agencies. It is a storefront of services offered to government by private companies. If I understand this correctly, apps.gov offers government agencies a way of quickly finding an approved service and getting it quickly. If you suddenly need a terabyte of storage more than you needed yesterday, you can just get it, rather than go through a lengthy procurement process and installing storage in your own IT center. If you have a temporary need, you can get just what you want when you need it. These kinds of services are traditionally called “Infrastructure as a Service,” “Software as a Service,” and “Platform as a Service.”
In addition, Apps.gov offers social media tools from Web 2.0 providers as free services. These are governed by a Terms of Service (TOS) Agreement. Social media services include blogs, video hosting, photo-sharing, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, and music sharing. Click on the Apps.gov FAQ for more detail.
This has a lot of potential for making agencies more flexible and more cost efficient. As Kundra says,
Like a utility such as electricity or water, cloud computing allows users to only consume what they need, to grow or shrink their use as their needs change, and to only pay for what they actually use. With more rapid access to innovative IT solutions, agencies can spend less time and taxpayer dollars on procedural items and focus more on using technology to achieve their missions.
But it also outsources a lot of government information technology in ways that make it unclear who will be ultimately responsible for the dissemination and stewardship of government information or for the privacy of users. This is certainly one big step forward for government IT. We’ll have to see if it is a step forward or backward for government information.
See also: The US Government Is Going Google, by Jennifer Van Grove, Mashable (September 15th, 2009).
Update: In an article in Tech Daily Dose (U.S. Gov’t Takes Cloud Computing Leap, By Andrew Noyes, September 15, 2009), Kundra is reported to have said that moving the government toward a cloud computing climate could require changes to the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act and that officials must ensure that agencies are not “held hostage” by one particular technology vendor.
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