Cloud computing changes everything. It makes government IT departments more nimble and offers greater computing resources at less cost, while giving large organizations the ability to turn on a dime as their technology needs change. The cloud model also alters the kinds of skills and personnel needed to drive IT departments forward.
The skills agencies will need may vary depending on whether they're building a private cloud or subscribing to services from a commercial provider, says Mark White, chief technology officer of Deloitte Consulting's technology practice.
"For instance, an organization focused on building a private cloud must transform its IT group into a cloud service provider. They'll need the same kinds of expertise they developed in growing their data center -- skills in consolidation, optimization and virtualization," says White. "But they'll also need the talent to do fairly sophisticated operations and application automation, as well as server provisioning and de-provisioning, and service management."
Agencies that plan to rely more on public cloud providers, especially for basic infrastructure needs, will probably need fewer operations people to maintain, patch and upgrade systems, White contends. But they will still require people with expertise in creating a catalog of cloud services, managing subscribers, brokering agreements with cloud providers and intervening when problems arise.
In 2004, the Colorado legislature created the Statewide Internet Portal Authority to help state and local governments develop a presence on the web. Today, SIPA offers a variety of cloud-based services to agencies in partnership with commercial service providers, says John Conley, SIPA's executive director.
Because the cloud enables agencies to leverage partnerships for basic IT functions and focus instead on the bigger picture, it's changed how local governments hire people, he says.
"What they need is more business analysts who can design a work flow that can be applied via the web," Conley says. But, he adds, "they also still need IT experts who can make sure the structure and security of their cloud is appropriate."
The cloud is also changing larger county governments that have more complex needs, he says. In these agencies, business users are often just as involved as the IT department in making technology decisions, but they tend to focus more on rules and processes than on the underlying technology, and the conversations are less technical and more service-oriented.
"When we and our private-sector partners hire staff, we still look for developers to build apps in the cloud," Conley says. "But we also hire a lot of project managers and designers because of the ability to use cloud platforms, share code, and not worry about installing a ton of servers."
In rural Klamath County, Ore., the cloud enables IT Director Randy Paul and his nine-person staff to spend less time keeping e-mail running and more time focusing on services that improve the lives of citizens.
Before the county moved e-mail to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, Paul had one person in charge of the e-mail system. If that person went on vacation for two weeks and a request for a record was made, that request would have to wait. Now with three staffers handling all of Klamath's cloud services, someone is always available to deal with such requests; instead of requiring one full-time employee, e-mail consumes only a fraction of one staffer's time.
"Moving to the cloud didn't change our head count, but it let us refocus on our core areas -- things like developing better policies around our Windows directory services, or things unique to us like our assessment-tax system," he says. "We want to get the best value for our citizens' tax dollars by emphasizing skills around things we have to do ourselves."
Likewise, SIPA is using the cloud to think more creatively about how IT can serve a greater good.
"When agencies first moved to the Net, we focused on the nuts and bolts of keeping the lights on so our government partners didn't need to worry about that," Conley says. "With the cloud, we've taken on more of a consulting role about how to leverage the Net to provide services back to citizens. We're more of an innovation incubator."
Got your eyes on the cloud? There's more than one kind, and each may be used for different purposes -- for example, to provide raw computing power, host custom apps, serve up ready-made applications, or provide data backup and storage. Here are the four basic types.
- Public cloud: A commercial service that allows any user to access computing resources and subscribe to applications that are paid for with a credit card.
- Private cloud: As with a commercial cloud, users can self-provision hardware or services, but the infrastructure is managed within the organization or contracted to a trusted third party, typically to maintain tighter control over sensitive information.
- Community cloud: A cloud designed to support a community of organizations with similar needs, usually managed by the organizations themselves or by a third party, which is more cost effective than a private cloud.
- Hybrid cloud: A combination of private, community or public clouds that employ the same technologies and enable data and application portability among them, enabling them to scale as needed.