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Cloudy Forecast in Washington: Feds Adopt Cloud Computing

Those who would sound the death knell for Microsoft got another shot of false hope this week when the U.S. federal government revealed that it would embark on an ambitious cloud computing effort.

Already, the feds have an app store up and running at Apps.gov, and national CIO Vivek Kundra is talking about moving government IT out of the '80s (if we're generous) and into the cloud. Reports the San Francisco Chronicle (from the link in the first paragraph of this entry):

The goal of the broader cloud project, which could take 10 years to complete, is to overhaul a system in which each agency assembles its own system of underutilized hardware and weaves together patchworks of software that are expensive to maintain and upgrade.

"We've been building data center after data center, acquiring application after application, and frankly what it's done is drive up the cost of technology immensely across the board," Kundra said. "What we need to be able to do is find a more innovative path in addressing these problems."

Already, the Chronicle and a host of other sources we've checked out have identified the government's cloudy forecast as a (potential) big win for Salesforce.com and Google -- which, for now, it might be, given that both companies have a bunch of apps in the feds' app store.

And, of course, that means that the vultures are circling around Microsoft again, talking about how the lumbering old software elephant is behind its competitors in the cloud and how this new federal cloud initiative could be another step toward the end of Microsoft's industry dominance. Quoth the Chronicle once more:

Traditional software companies are also getting into cloud computing, if slowly, but the mere fact that a customer the size of the federal government is rethinking its approach to technology could pose serious risks for leading software companies, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"They could end up doing most of their business with Google and not doing it through Oracle or Microsoft," he said.

Now, we respect Rob Enderle immensely, and we don't consider him a Microsoft-hater at all. It's also important to note that he qualifies his statement with the word "could." But let's back up a second here. Aren't folks jumping the gun a bit on declaring Microsoft dead in the cloud? Sure, Microsoft is behind Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com (in online CRM, anyway) and maybe a few others right now in terms of cloud computing. But Redmond isn't ignoring the cloud, as we know from Microsoft's work on the Azure platform and the fact that Ray Ozzie holds a top executive position within the company.

Besides, the Chronicle article mentioned that the project could take 10 years to complete. Ten years? That's an absolute eternity in this industry. (Seriously, think about 1999 for a minute.) Does anybody really think that Microsoft will be completely shut out of a decade-long government project (which, given that it's a government project, will probably end up taking 15 years to finish and will go way over budget)? We don't, and Microsoft partners shouldn't, either.

We at RCPU are believers in the cloud, and we know that it's here today and isn't going away. We like it that way, and the feds' project, including the new app store, actually sounds really worthwhile. But even we recognize that cloud computing is still in the relatively early stages of evolution and that nobody has yet become to cloud computing what Microsoft is to the desktop operating system.  

Microsoft-haters, don't crow too loudly just yet. We're not saying that Google and Salesforce.com (or a combination thereof) won't end up dominating cloud computing. We're just saying that Microsoft's not out of this game yet, regardless of who's stocking the federal app store right now.

How competitive do you think Microsoft will be in the cloud? What's your take on the government's cloud initiative? Send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 09/17/2009 at 1:22 PM


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