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Five ways that Apps.gov is a trendsetter

Apps.gov, a new cloud computing portal from the General Services Administration, will serve to demonstrate a variety of new IT practices enabled by cloud. Will the private enterprise follow?

James Urquhart
James Urquhart is a field technologist with almost 20 years of experience in distributed-systems development and deployment, focusing on service-oriented architectures, cloud computing, and virtualization. James is a market strategist for cloud computing at Cisco Systems and an adviser to EnStratus, though the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.
James Urquhart
4 min read

I'm one of many who believe this week's announcement of Apps.gov--a portal targeted at reducing the cost and effort for public agencies to acquire cloud services--is forcing all of IT to face the economics of cloud computing.

Apps.gov, a federal government initiative out of the General Services Administration, demonstrates several concepts that have been the dream of many private enterprise IT departments for some time, but have been successfully executed by very few. Here are the five trends that I think Apps.gov demonstrates, and why you should pay attention:

  1. The IT service catalog. For years, business managers--sick of the bureaucracy inherent in most service provisioning processes--have imagined a world in which they could select desired IT services from a catalog and click a button to complete the transaction. This Amazon-like service acquisition experience has many appealing advantages over process-heavy provisioning processes.

    For one thing, it demonstrates the power of applying superior consumer Web experiences to traditionally human IT processes. However, it also enables--heck, encourages--agencies to explore and validate the cost savings that are purported to be inherent in cloud computing.

    This should be great news to IT service catalog vendors like NewScale and the like. When CEOs see the App.gov interface--rightly or wrongly--many will wonder why they can't give their organization the same experience.

  2. Core categories of service from an end user's perspective. One of the things that greatly simplifies the home page for Apps.gov is the simple four-category breakdown of cloud service offerings. This makes it much less intimidating for users to go exploring to see what they can find and gives vendors an opportunity to consider how to best position their offerings.

    What the categories are is "Business Apps", "Produtivity Apps", "Cloud IT Services," and "Social Media Apps."

    What they aren't is "SaaS," "PaaS," and "IaaS" (the so-called "SPI" model). While the latter categorizations helps technologists classify the types and audiences of various cloud services, they mean nothing to most end users of those services (especially SaaS services).

    I will be the first to admit that categorization of anything as complex as the IT market is difficult, if not impossible. But my initial experience with this site tells me these groupings aren't too bad. I would expect to hear more IT organizations and vendors talking about service delivery in these terms instead of the SPI model.

  3. Automation and/or removal of bureaucracy. This to me is perhaps the most intriguing thing about Apps.gov. When federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced Apps.gov this week, he noted that the site is largely aimed at removing the costs for each agency to acquire cloud services. He gave the example of the Transportation Safety Administration, which was looking to add blogging capabilities to its IT portfolio. The estimated cost to taxpayers: $650,000. Kundra pointed out that consumers can get blogs for free.

    I see two ways bureaucracy is removed through cloud computing and Apps.gov. First, automation will eliminate many of the manual processes that have to be put in place to manage the volume of service requests most agencies experience. Second, the removal of redundant approvals, certifications, price negotiations, service level agreement negotiations, and so on will take out tremendous waste in an organization as large as the federal government.

    Both of these practices can be applied to commercial IT infrastructure as well, and I expect to see many companies watching and learning from the government's experience.

  4. "Adopt at your own pace" mentality. Another common mistake made by many enterprises is to look for magic bullets that solve budget, agility, or performance problems. Chuck Hollis, EMC's CTO of global marketing, once told me he sees three ways that companies can move toward the cloud: they can try to move all legacy infrastructure into a cloud model at once, they can put an ultimatum in place that demands that all new work be done in the cloud, or they can experiment with "baby clouds"--small, noncritical projects that can prove both capability and economy, thus rationalizing a steady expansion into more critical application domains.

    I believe that the federal government is in fact taking the third approach, allowing agencies to see what is available, but to adopt those services at their own pace. That's not to say the White House won't put incentives and guidance into future budgets to encourage adoption. In fact, Kundra confirmed that this is indeed the case. However, there is no "mandate" that punishes an agency for working at its own pace and rationalizing its adoption as it goes.

  5. Cloud is not defined by who runs it, but by the service provided. Kundra also noted that the government will always run its own infrastructure for some workloads and some data sets, whether for national security or due to the sensitivity of the data. The federal government will build its own clouds, and those clouds will in time be available through Apps.gov. The public sector is one space where the future of private cloud computing is assured.

    I will concede that the U.S. government is practically an IT marketplace in and of itself, but it is surprisingly similar to many industries that must deal with sensitive data, such as the payment card industry, health care, or military manufacturing. As the feds find that balance of public, private, and hybrid cloud services, you'd better believe that the private sector will follow.

Kundra is no slouch. He understands that a transition to cloud computing is a long-term technology goal for, not only Obama's administration, but likely the administration that follows. He also knows that this is a rare opportunity for the federal government to set an example for private industry in no uncertain terms--an example that may go a long way to ensuring the United States sets an example for the rest of the world.