Headlines this week were dominated by the general availability of Microsoft Windows Azure and, shockingly, even more debate over the definition of cloud computing. However, while analysts and pundits were debating how many companies will use Microsoft’s new cloud, or whether “hybrid cloud” is an accurate term, some very real work was getting underway – all under the cloud moniker.
The one entity responsible for all of it: the United States government. Joining an ever-expanding list of government agencies relying upon cloud-computing infrastructure and services, the U.S. Air Force commissioned IBM to demonstrate a secure cloud environment, NASA awarded Parabon a $600,000 contract to provide browser-based HPC computing cycles to agency scientists, and Microsoft partnered with the National Science Foundation on a three-year agreement to provide Azure-based cloud resources to researchers.
Of course, HPC isn’t the only reason the government is interested in cloud computing; cost savings play a big role, too. Lowering capital expenditure certainly was a driving force behind the creation of Apps.gov, and it no doubt is almost entirely responsible for the Office of Management and Budget’s forthcoming mandate that agencies must defend decisions not to use cloud computing for new IT projects. U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra is leveraging NASA’s Amazon EC2-style Nebula cloud to save dollars on a big open-data project that is in the works. And then there is the very-public financial and operational success of the Department of Defense’s Rapid Access Computing Infrastructure, which it has described as better than Google.
The point in all of this is that cloud computing, as a delivery model, is a very compelling proposition regardless what we call it or who’s delivering it. The U.S. government, hardly a bastion of IT progressivism, wouldn’t be spending money on these projects and pushing the migration from traditional practices if it were not. More importantly, it wouldn’t likely be spending money on these projects if not for all the buzz about “cloud computing.” Many of the underlying technologies have been around for years under a number of different descriptors, but, for whatever reason, it is the concept of “the cloud” that brought everything into the limelight.
Don’t worry about Windows Azure; it will make Microsoft plenty of money, because it is a valuable offering. The same goes for Amazon Web Services, Rackspace Cloud, vSphere and every other cloud truly value-added cloud offering. Do we really care about the marketing terminology, especially when it’s been this successful? When customers ask about the cloud, providers (or vendors) will explain what it actually means to the customers’ businesses. If it meets their needs, they’ll buy; if not, they’ll move on as they did with hot technologies of yore. The government certainly seems to think it’s a wise investment, and it seems more than happy to call it “the cloud.”