Ballmer forecasts cloudy future for public safety

Microsoft CEO says the next big step for public safety managers is in the cloud

Public safety managers must begin moving into the cloud, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said Jan. 27 at the company's annual Public Safety Symposium in Redmond, Wash.

“What is the thing that’s coming? What is the thing that is underdeveloped from a technology perspective?” Ballmer asked rhetorically. “There’s no question that the big thing that is going on today is the shift to the cloud.”

According to Ballmer, the key virtue of cloud computing that makes it especially well-suited for many government agencies and departments is that, in addition to being cost-effective and scalable, “it has a fundamental assumption that software is built from the get-go with collaboration.”

At the same time, Ballmer said, “the flip side to everything moving to the cloud…is the development of richer and richer client-side devices that have a more natural user interface.” Specifically, Ballmer pointed to the integration of speech, touch and biometrics into devices.

“So these two colossal shifts – the shift in the cloud and the shift to a more natural interface – are vital for industry,” he said. “They will shift the way we think about software and hardware.”

Although Ballmer did not have any deployed implementations to point to, he did say that Microsoft was currently working with a number of countries and cities around the world to move its Child Exploitation Tracking System – an information-sharing application employed by law enforcement -- into the cloud.

“If ever there was an application that would benefit from coming to the cloud so that data could really be shared by law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions, this is the application,” Ballmer said. “A database of child exploiters, where you lose people at country borders, is far less effective that what we think we’ll be able to do with this collaboration with a cloud-hosted solution.”

Ballmer did not, however, address the primary concerns of government agencies with respect to cloud computing: security and legal issues surrounding data stored on third-party servers.

Ballmer also cited other “cloudless” initiatives Microsoft had undertaken in the public safety arena in recent months, including the development of online collaboration portals, employing new Bing mapping tools, to respond to the crisis in Haiti. Microsoft’s research team has also launched a project to deliver machine translation of Haitian Creole. In all, he said, the company has contributed about $1.25 million in cash and software to the rescue and relief efforts in Haiti.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader comments

Thu, Feb 11, 2010 jw

Security is the first issue to be addressed in moving to the cloud - it's disappointing for Ballmer to neglect this in a "hype the cloud" talk.

Fri, Jan 29, 2010

SPOF is the most glaring issue, yes. 'The Cloud' does have a place for comms and data retrieval under normal conditions, and with some redundancy can even help around the physical edges of a disaster area. But any public safety agency that is depending on cell network and internet ALWAYS being available, is asking for trouble. There has to be SOME comms available that doesn't depend on anything that isn't on the utility belt, in the vehicle, or at the hardened EOC site.

Fri, Jan 29, 2010

If Public Safety units move to the cloud, doesn't that create a single point of failure?

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