This week IBM announced new cloud offerings for federal and state governments aimed at providing the scalable infrastructure and ease of deployment available from public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Rackspace.
These clouds are hosted at IBM data centers and are multi-tenant offerings restricted to government entities. And while the world doesn't need yet another definition of cloud, this use case of hosted private cloud (note: I'm not sure if this fits as virtual private cloud) is one that I suspect we'll see more and more large data center providers move toward.
For clarity, these clouds are both private and hosted, leading me to wonder if this type of offering will be more appealing than behind-the-firewall private cloud solutions. After all, in this scenario you don't have to buy hardware or hire staff to manage your infrastructure.
To a large extent, these new services look just like hosting did a few years back with the only real difference that the infrastructure is designed to be used in a multi-tenant manner as opposed to having dedicated servers. (Note: most hosting companies ran multi-tenant servers anyway, but the actual technical way of separating the tenants is different with cloud providers.)
It's not that services such as Amazon Web Services EC2 can't perform at the same level of a government-specific cloud offering, but the often challenging requirements related to government computing require a specific way of doing things.
A few weeks back I spoke with IBM CIO Pat Toole, who emphasized the fact that IBM corporate IT has a strong focus on optimizing virtualized servers in cloud-like ways to reduce costs. With nearly 400,000 employees, IBM is as big or bigger than many government entities and has similar challenges related to uptime, security, and storage.
Toole mentioned the fact that a shared cloud infrastructure can allow for data to be more easily joined and parsed for analysis, provided that the customers involved want to share their data--a now common practice across government agencies.
Cost is an obvious if amorphous reason to move to cloud services, where cost reduction can take many shapes, including reduced hardware and storage expenditure. But in the case of governments, I have to believe the biggest cost savings is in not needing as much IT staff and one of the big gains is in time to market for new applications and data analysis.