With the agencies of the federal government in various stages of shifting their IT operations to the cloud, CIOs must take a considered approach that places cloud computing in the context of a host of other factors, chiefly the agency mission, but also the prevailing currents that are reshaping the technology landscape, a top analyst with Gartner said on Thursday.
In remarks here at a conference on cloud computing and the federal government, David Cearley a fellow and vice president with the research group, pitched a hybrid vision of IT that would marshal cloud computing in service of an agency's business objectives while at once tapping into the transformative potential of social, mobile and the information insights to be harvested from big data.
"Make no mistake. It's not cloud in isolation. It's cloud in the mix of a series of disruptive trends that you really have to address," Cearley says.
Seeing Clouds Clearly
First, as a matter of definition, Cearley notes that the term "cloud computing," through overuse common to IT faddishness, is in danger of drifting from its essential meaning, which Gartner articulates as "a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet technologies."
"Cloud is stamped on everything that doesn't move fast," says Cearley. "When cloud means 'everything' and it's stamped on everything, then cloud computing loses its meaning."
He argues that cloud computing, in the non-diluted sense of the term, must entail a layer of abstraction that casts whatever the function at issue -- software, business process applications, infrastructure, etc. -- as a service.
To the federal IT workers in the audience, Cearley advises that they keep that focus on services in mind in their pitch meetings with cloud vendors looking to score government contracts.
"Be sure you're having [a] conversation about you providing service to me. Keep that separate from the conversation about building your own private cloud," he says. "The whole idea is to create this abstraction layer."
And indeed, Gartner's forecast anticipates an across-the-board, if uneven, uptick in spending on an array of technologies delivered as a service, encompassing software, business processes, platforms and infrastructure.
Along the way, interest in the private cloud and hosted private cloud appears to be waning. In its polling of IT executives in various sectors, including government, Gartner found that decision makers are growing more comfortable with public and hybrid cloud models, with a corresponding shift away from purely private clouds.
"That's happening because as people get more comfortable with public cloud services, they layer in additional security capabilities and make it safer, and as certification models like FedRAMP and other things come up, then the security issues are getting addressed for more and more applications. Look at this as a steady progression over time," Cearley says, calling 2013 "the year of hybrid cloud thinking."
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