NIST to expand cloud computing circle

Wednesday - 11/23/2011, 5:03am EST

Dawn Leaf, cloud computing executive program manager, NIST

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology is offering agencies a pit stop in their rush to cloud computing, and the pit crew is getting larger.

The agency is expanding its community approach to not only finalize the draft of version one of the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap, released Nov. 1, but also to take advantage of standards efforts already underway or that have been completed in the private sector.

Dawn Leaf, NIST's cloud computing executive program manager, said the goal is to figure out how those private sector efforts to standardize cloud could be integrated into the government's approach. She said over the next two months, NIST will assess their progress and revise their plans for cloud guidance as necessary.

Dawn Leaf, cloud computing executive program manager, NIST

"We will be rolling out our timeline for the next phase of the program and we will be explaining how the strategy and approach we have been using to date to focus on priority action plans, which are a way for us to leverage the work outside more explicitly so we are not duplicating effort," Leaf said recently at a cloud computing workshop in Gaithersburg, Md.

Making cloud easier to use

The goal of the roadmap is to help reduce the complexity of moving services to cloud providers.

"We are procuring cloud long before we have the standards to help define these products and these markets and that can get in the way of adoption since meeting requirements have to be dealt with in a messier, ad hoc way. It also puts pressure on standards development," said Patrick Gallagher, NIST's director at the workshop. "This results in the classic trade off, the same standards and requirements that can make markets work so effectively if done at the wrong time, can also get in the way of innovations and a rapidly developing innovation space. Ultimately, our goal is to make is substantially easier to buy, secure, transfer, interconnect and use cloud-based services."

Agencies are on a fast track to the cloud as the Office of Management and Budget has a goal of shifting $20 billion of IT expenditures out of $80 billion to the cloud over the next five years. Agencies must move at least one IT function to the cloud by the end of 2011 and two more by the end of 2012.

Patrick Gallagher, NIST director

Gallagher compared the standards development process while agencies are moving to the new technology to changing a tire while the car is going 60 MPH.

"This should be blueprint for a much more cohesive and organized community effort to build the cloud," he said.

In developing the draft, NIST took a community approach. It held four outreach events over the last year with more than 1,500 people taking part. NIST also created five working groups to address specific parts of the effort.

Additionally, the agency is working closely with the federal Chief Information Officer's Council cloud computing working group with 30 agencies.

The roadmap is split into three volumes:

  • Strategic and long term plans for the cloud
  • Useful information and all the technical work completed over the last year
  • Technical considerations for cloud deployment that maps the technical work against the federal cloud computing strategy and the decision framework developed by OMB. Leaf said volume three marries policy and technical framework to help those making decisions.

NIST released volumes one and two Nov. 1.

Leaf said volume three still is under development.

"That is the most tactical portion of it," she said. "One of the reasons it's a working document, it's dependent on the volume two work and also it really needs involvement with agencies and industries and an operational perspective to be complete."

Leaf said each volume is aimed at a specific audience making the roadmap usable for program managers as well as IT folks.

For CIOs, Leaf said volume two is important.

"We are calling for in volume two some very specific tasks and activities that are underway now," she said. "First of all, we've asked industry to map their services against the reference architecture. That alone will make it easier for agencies to compare the products they are procuring. We are continuing to expand the target use cases to share that information. And we will be developing those 12 generic scenarios that are outlined in the working document technical considerations and working step-by-step with agencies to see how their business cases map to those cases and what technical information they need to look at as they make those decisions."

For program mangers, Leaf said volume one helps program and project managers.

"The road map details the steps that you need to take from where you are to where you want to be," she said. "In this case, where we want to be in accelerated U.S. government deployment of cloud computing."

Leaf said NIST and its partners have focused on separating fact from fiction when it comes to cloud over the last year.

"We assessed the degree to which interoperability, portability and security requirements are in place, and the degree to which the standards guidance and technology are mature," she said. "We can then have a clear set of priorities and be able to focus our efforts going forward. And also so we can have a more definitive, granular discussion with industry to sort of get to that next level of detail."

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