Recently, the chief information officer of the United States, Vivek Kundra, published a policy document “intended to accelerate the pace at which the government will realize the value of cloud computing.” Kundra’s Federal Cloud Computing Strategy (PDF) is a ringing endorsement of the cloud, as its opening words indicate:
The Federal Government’s current Information Technology (IT) environment is characterized by low asset utilization, a fragmented demand for resources, duplicative systems, environments which are difficult to manage, and long procurement lead times. These inefficiencies negatively impact the Federal Government’s ability to serve the American public.
Cloud computing has the potential to play a major part in addressing these inefficiencies and improving government service delivery. The cloud computing model can significantly help agencies grappling with the need to provide highly reliable, innovative services quickly despite resource constraints.
A few paragraphs later, Kundra says this:
By leveraging shared infrastructure and economies of scale, cloud computing presents a compelling business model for Federal leadership. Organizations will be able to measure and pay for only the IT resources they consume, increase or decrease their usage to match requirements and budget constraints, and leverage the shared underlying capacity of IT resources via a network. Resources needed to support mission critical capabilities can be provisioned more rapidly and with minimal overhead and routine provider interaction.
Everything I’ve quoted above and much of the rest of this report applies to the private sector as much as to the public sector. The report deserves close study and I plan to delve into it in more detail in later posts.
But I wanted to highlight something in the report that, for me, sums up the advantage of cloud computing over traditional computing environments. In a section on how to provision cloud services effectively, Kundra writes:
To effectively provision selected IT services, agencies will need to rethink their processes as provisioning services rather than simply contracting assets. Contracts that previously focused on metrics such as number of servers and network bandwidth now should focus on the quality of service fulfillment.
The cloud changes the equation for contracting IT resources, Kundra is saying. Most notably, he is suggesting that the primary focus in selecting a provider should no longer be on “metrics,” but on “service.”
Thinking of Software as a Service
What does he mean by that? I can’t presume to speak for Kundra, but I can tell you what I think he means.
Applications delivered via the cloud are often referred to by the name “Software as a Service.” The consumer has a need and the software serves that need. The important distinction is that SaaS enables the consumer to focus on the need, not the technology. Rather than first having to wrestle with finding and installing the right hardware and software, the consumer is able to get directly to the business at hand.
In 2005, just after Ray Ozzie became CTO for Microsoft, he circulated a memo to top executives that he titled, The Internet Services Disruption. He described the movement towards SaaS (and Microsoft’s need to follow suit), and he summed up the movement this way:
The ubiquity of broadband and wireless networking has changed the nature of how people interact, and they’re increasingly drawn toward the simplicity of services and service-enabled software that ‘just works’. Businesses are increasingly considering what services-based economics of scale might do to help them reduce infrastructure costs or deploy solutions as-needed and on subscription basis.
Software that “just works,” as Ozzie put it, is the best description I’ve seen of SaaS. Another description he uses frequently is “seamless” — seamless productivity, seamless communications, seamless solutions, seamless IT. The consumer has a problem to solve or a task to do and just wants something that will deliver the service of enabling it to be done.
To my reading, this is Kundra’s message to government agencies about the cloud. The cloud lets you focus on the service you need delivered — the task you need done, the problem you need solved — without having to get hung up on the metrics and logistics of how it will be delivered.
E-discovery provides the perfect illustration of the power of the cloud to deliver the services clients need. A product such as Catalyst CR is available to clients on-demand. When clients face a discovery deadline or an investigation, they can get up and running immediately. The application is scalable to virtually any size project, is powered by a grid of hundreds of servers, and can be used by anybody with an Internet connection anywhere in the world. Rather than be sidetracked by worrying about what appliances to buy or software to install, the client starts directly on meeting its deadline.
As Kundra puts it, “Cloud computing will require a new way of thinking to reflect a service-based focus rather than an asset-based focus.” For consumers, that is a way of thinking that is long overdue.