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Apps.gov: Kundra is ready for a fight

It’s Vivek Kundra versus the government bureaucracy, and the information technology industry can’t wait to see who wins

It’s Vivek Kundra versus the government bureaucracy, and the information technology industry can’t wait to see who wins.

At stake is nothing less than the federal government’s decades-old acquisition process and its $75 billion IT budget. If the federal chief information officer has his way, that process will finally be forced to accommodate the Web-based economy, and as a result, the government’s IT budget will shrink considerably.

That was the upshot of the mainstream IT press’s coverage of last week’s unveiling of Apps.gov, the Obama administration’s much-anticipated online technology storefront.

Apps.gov is based on the cloud-computing model, in which organizations access software via the Web and pay for it as a service rather than downloading it onto their own servers.

The appeal of that approach is that an organization buys only what it needs rather than stockpiling software licenses, and it avoids the cost of hosting and managing the software and all the associated data.

However, the idea of government data floating out there in the cloud might give some federal IT security managers a serious case of the willies. Cloud computing also requires a change in how agencies budget for and buy technology because they are paying for a service, not a fixed product.

“It will be tough for Kundra to bang enough heads together to make real and permanent changes in federal IT, but it's what President Obama hired him to do, and he seems to be off to a good start,” wrote David Coursey, a blogger at PC World. “Now the warring with government agencies can begin in earnest.”

Kundra said the shift to the cloud-computing paradigm could take a long time, and others agreed.

"There will be resistance for years to come, predicated upon culture," Bruce Hart, a former deputy CIO at the CIA, told Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service.

Opponents of the initiative are certain to cite concerns about security. "We're going to see the word 'security' used as the counter-ammunition to his initiatives," said Hart, now chief operations officer at data-center company Terremark Worldwide.

Nearly every report noted the presence of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, at Kundra’s press conference. As one of the most prominent vendors championing the cloud-computing model, Google is no casual bystander in this initiative.

“With a customer as large as the U.S. government, this is a coup for Google, which has been trying to push Google Apps adoption in the enterprise,” wrote Computerworld’s Sharon Gaudin. “Having major government agencies willing to depend on Google for Web-based applications is quite an advertisement for the company's wares.”

Incidentally, Google announced last week that it would tailor its Google Apps cloud-computing offerings to meet government security requirements by certifying the software and hiring employees with security clearances.

But many other companies have a vested interest in seeing Kundra succeed, particularly in the current economic climate.

“If the government embraces a long-term, widespread adoption of new technology, it not only finds some cost savings but also pumps much-needed revenue into the hardware, software and Internet companies out there,” wrote Sam Diaz for ZDNet.

As eager as vendors are, they might find themselves answering a lot of questions before they get to the stage of taking orders. For example, vendors can assure customers that their systems are secure, but how do they write such assurances into a contract?

“Users who ship data to the cloud will need contractual guarantees that it will be maintained with the same level of security as it was in-house, but neither vendors nor users are sure yet how such guarantees can be made,” wrote InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock. “The owner of the data remains responsible if it is lost or misused, and it remains unclear how much of that responsibility, if any, can be shifted to a cloud supplier.”

Other questions have arisen about the availability and reliability of cloud systems and the prospects of an organization “being locked into a single cloud provider,” Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computerworld.

Let the battle begin.

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