Cloud's potential depends on interoperability

Cloud technology is becoming a force multiplier for emerging mobility and big data capabilities at federal agencies.

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Like an unpredictable thunderstorm that spawns a tornado, cloud technologies are spinning out mobile applications. But rather than running for cover, federal agencies and their services providers are trying to harness the storm's power.

At a joint gathering for federal agencies, cloud services and mobility companies at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, federal agency IT officials and cloud providers sorted through ideas on how to navigate cloud environments that could be profoundly changed by growing demand for mobile applications and devices.

"We've got to step up for the stakeholders" in developing common pathways for cloud/mobile interaction, said Willie May, associate director for laboratory programs at NIST, said in opening remarks at the March 25 cloud and mobility forum and workshop convened on the agency's sprawling campus near Washington, D.C. He stressed that interoperability among cloud platforms is a critical consideration.

Mays said that while cloud has been a development priority for NIST and federal agencies for years, it is now becoming a force multiplier for emerging mobility and big data capabilities at federal agencies.

Cloud-based platforms can help deliver a growing list of information-based services to agencies' audiences.

As mobile phone and tablet computers increasingly become cloud devices, agencies must think about how to allow them to move across cloud boundaries, said Pamela Wise-Martinez, senior strategic enterprise architect in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Agencies also must consider how to adapt their services to make them mobile-friendly, quick-to-implement and effective, she said.

Being able to enter data once and have that data safely transferable across agency cloud platforms using whatever device a user wants should be the goal for federal agencies, she said.

Federal agencies' primary job in meeting the challenge of joining cloud computing to mobile is figuring out their core competencies and hewing to that mission, providing services to their users that ultimately make life easier. "If your bailiwick is border patrol, that's your core. Why are you worried about H.R. [applications.]?" said Wise-Martinez.

According to Dawn Leaf, deputy information officer for the Department of Labor, agencies for the most part are already using cloud services to handle the basic commodity IT applications.

She said the most commonly used cloud software-as-a-service is for email. The Labor Department migrated nine separate email systems and infrastructure to a single commercial cloud service in the last year or so. Department employees now have 400 times more storage than when they used the agency's system, she said.

Mobile devices, she added, have complicated the picture. "When we stood up the service, everyone wanted to use their mobile devices to access it. You can't script mobility. It's a grass-roots driver."

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