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Experts: Policy could make, break cloud computing

Congress has to carefully regulate cloud computing in a way that won't stifle the market, forum attendees say. Meanwhile, the federal CIO leads a group creating its own cloud advice.

WASHINGTON--The United States could secure economic and technological dominance in the burgeoning realm of cloud computing, or it could fall behind the rest of the world, depending on how Congress may choose to regulate industry, experts said Friday.

Meanwhile, as cloud computing becomes more commonplace in the lives of everyday consumers, the new federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, said Friday he is reviewing what policies are necessary to ensure the federal government does not fall behind.

The federal government should play a role in fostering the country's cloud-computing industry by assigning a task force or some other form of specific focus on the industry to decide what policies are needed, Bernard Golden, CEO of HyperStratus, said at a cloud-computing forum here hosted by Google.

Vivek Kundra spoke Friday about the government's use of cloud computing. Stephanie Condon/ CNET Networks

Cloud computing "is accelerating in adoption," Golden said, but "the policy stuff is a big impediment. This is a place where the government has a strong role to play."

Golden was joined at the Google event by Jeffrey Rayport, a principal at the consulting firm Marketspace, and Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News. Rayport and Heyward released a study detailing factors that could influence the success and growth of cloud computing.

Some of those components that the government will have to play a role in, they said, include privacy assurances and access to data.

"It is an irony that your rights to privacy are different once (your) data exists on the cloud," Rayport said. "That's a problem. These really are policy issues that, without being resolved, we don't have a robust proposition" for a strong industry.

On the other hand, the panelists, said, the wrong kind of policymaking--such as more legislation like the Patriot Act--could detract from the United States' technological dominance.

"It may have noble elements, but the simple fact is we are seeing (negative) things happen as a result of this type of legislation," Rayport said. "Data traffic on the Internet is being routed around the United States. There are cloud providers looking for safer places to put data centers, one being Switzerland. Those government decisions have huge impacts on the unfolding of the cloud vision."

Another way the government could foster growth in the industry is by embracing cloud computing within its own institutions, the speakers said. Even simple Web 2.0 tools like video and photo sharing can have a "dramatic impact in the way the public is likely to respond to (government) issues," Rayport said.

"From a government standpoint, this means radical transparency," he said. "A picture is worth a lot more than 1,000 words."

Video sharing may be one of the first processes for which the federal government leverages cloud computing, Kundra said at a separate event on Friday focusing on transparency.

Kundra created a cloud-computing working group within the CIO Council to explore what processes would be best served through cloud computing, rather than which agencies or departments. It would be easier to implement cloud computing standards for simple processes like video sharing, he explained, than overhauling an entire agency to use cloud computing, when it may have functions that have more complex security issues.

"There are a lot of problems that need to be solved (in the federal government) that are not sensitive and that do not need to be classified," Kundra said at a transparency discussion, hosted by the Center for American Progress.

He also said the cloud-computing working group is "looking to promulgate (cloud computing) policies on a federal basis," though he would not say how soon the group may report its recommendations.

In the meantime, the CIO Council is working to update the architecture of the federal government's more than 10,000 systems, some of which were coded 30 years ago.

"A lot of these systems are mission-critical systems," he said.

He said the council will work to make government data available in different formats like XML so people can manipulate the data, starting with the information on, which tracks spending from the stimulus package.