A recently released draft plan provides a road map for federal agencies and industry to navigate through the development of the cloud-computing model. In the January issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Technology Editor George I. Seffers explores the document in his article, "Hitting the Hard Spots on the Road to Cloud."
In November 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released two draft volumes of what will eventually become a three-volume plan to foster cloud-computing efforts among the United States government and private sector. While federal agencies will not be mandated to follow the road map, people want and need guidance in this area, says Dawn Leaf, NIST senior executive for cloud computing. As with any new or evolving technology, many questions exist:
"There's a tendency to explore the same types of issues-interoperability, portability, security, maintainability and reliability. The primary question is: What are the hard spots for the U.S. government in cloud?"
The most pressing issue among those hard spots: security. Leaf notes that physical boundaries associated with traditional computing don't necessarily apply to the cloud environment. The same aspects that make the cloud valuable, such as connecting cloud services from common devices, also create potential risks. Although many conferences and seminars cover these challenges, Leaf says discussions often lack concrete answers:
"What you tend to see over and over is that we talk about the subjects a lot, but we go round and round in circles."
Therefore, the NIST hopes the document will specifically identify what is needed for agencies and industry to move forward. Of the two segments released, Volume I provides a general understanding and overview of the road map initiative and gives agencies a way to define what they need in order to communicate effectively with industry. According to Doug Chabot, vice president, principal solutions architect, QinetiQ North America, gaining clarity in this area will help agencies write more consistent requests for proposals with clear requirements.
Volume II includes more technical detail as a reference for those working on cloud computing initiatives. It summarizes work completed in this area to date and explains the findings.
Leaf emphasizes that creating this clear map will help the United States stay at the forefront of cloud computing on the international level. The NIST intends to release further guidance in 2012, including the third volume of the set, which tackles information for decision makers in the field, and a special publication on the challenges and security deployments of cloud.