Google is the early winner in a drive to turn the U.S. government into a major user of cloud-based applications. White House CIO Vivek Kundra says his new Apps.gov cloud initiative will save money and make applications easier for federal agencies to purchase.
The new site links government purchasers to online applications from Google, Salesforce.com, and other companies, which they can purchase online.
IT services, including storage, Web hosting, and virtual machines will eventually be offered as well. Apps.gov is run by the U.S. General Services Administration.
Speaking at a press event earlier this week, Kundra told reporters that web-based and cloud technologies already widely available--such as blogging--could save the government a lot of money. The U.S. spends $75 billion annually on federal IT programs.
Kundra mentioned a $600,000 federal blog project as an example of how government spends more IT money than necessary when low-cost, even free solutions might work as well.
"If in our lives, we can go online and provision Webmail within a matter of minutes, why must the government spend billions and billions of dollars on information that may not be sensitive in nature?" Kundra said.
Obama's CIO may be one of the few in government to realize that government IT needs aren't always so special. Why, Kundra asks, should the feds use made-to-order when pre-made options might work as well?
Kundra said that building upon Apps.gov, there would be a number of pilot projects during 2010 that will start a move to cloud-based applications. By 2011, agencies should expect guidance on how they are expected to make a move to cloud-based and virtualized computing.
Google is already investing in a government cloud, promising Tuesday to have Google Docs meeting federal security requirements in 2010. The apps will be hosted in data centers staffed by employees with appropriate security clearances, the company said.
Apps.gov does not at present list any Microsoft products for sale, leading some to speculate that the program could be a big win for Google and other companies already more involved in selling cloud-based products.
My guess is that Microsoft soon be on board--once its cloud-based Office Web Apps become available--but Redmond still faces an uphill battle to be considered a serious cloud competitor. Right now, Google holds the clear advantage.
An experienced government CIO, Kundra knows the opposition he will face. Security is the #1 concern--and excuse--in government computing. He can expect agencies large and small to claim their needs are so special that new rules should not apply to them.
The government culture that says its computing needs aren’t like those of other businesses is well entrenched and used to riding out changes that come with new administrations.
It will be tough for Kundra to bang enough heads together to make real and permanent changes in federal IT, but it's what President Obama hired him to do and he seems to be off to a good start. Now the warring with government agencies can begin in earnest.