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Collaboration between the private sector and the federal government is necessary for governments to take full advantage of cloud computing opportunities, a Microsoft executive said Wednesday.
Speaking at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, Microsoft's senior VP and general counsel Brad Smith said that adopting cloud computing has a number of advantages for the public sector that go beyond the obvious financial gains represented by moving software to the cloud.
"It's not just making government cheaper, but making government better -- that's the real opportunity that cloud computing offers," he said.
In an interview following Smith's keynote, Teresa Carlson, VP of Microsoft Federal, said she believes the government sector is slightly ahead of the private sector in planning for cloud computing.
This forward-thinking makes sense for the government's transparency efforts through the Open Government Directive, as well as to improve communications and collaboration between government agencies that often operate on disparate networks.
"It's no secret that over the years, the government has struggled a bit with having interoperability within an agency itself -- it's sometimes decentralized," she said.
She said the cloud is a way to enable people even in a decentralized network environment to collaborate and communicate quickly and in real time.
However, cloud computing also has challenges, and they are ones that only collaboration between all stakeholders can solve, Smith said. This means the government and the private sector must work together to create policy that promotes the move to the cloud.
"If we're going to make the most of cloud computing, we need government not only to adopt it, but to come together to enable it," he said.
The Obama administration already has been taking significant steps to work with the private sector to foster technology innovation. Earlier this year, the White House hosted 50 CEOs from top companies to discuss what the government can learn from the private sector.
Various government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency also have made it a priority for cybersecurity initiatives to work with the private sector companies that own critical infrastructure used by government networks.
As far as policy goes, Smith promoted nationwide access to at least 100-mbps broadband Internet service in the United States as one way the government can help make the most of cloud computing.
Privacy and security also are major issues that demand policy changes, he said. Smith encouraged lawmakers to update outdated laws like the Cable TV Privacy Act of 1984 and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 to make them more relevant to current cloud computing issues.
"Laws need to be modernized," he said. "We need to fill in gaps that have emerged so they are as relevant to the next decade and beyond for the next 25 years."
In his talk, Smith also highlighted Microsoft's own work to bring cloud computing to the public sector, and cited a couple of examples in which the government is using Microsoft's cloud computing offerings -- specifically, Windows Azure and its Business Productivity Suite.
Smith said that Arizona State University is now using Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite -- a bundle of Web-based collaboration and productivity apps -- for 18,000 faculty and staff.
What he didn't mention is that a few years ago, ASU deployed a free version of Google Apps to about 40,000 faculty and students.
Those already using Google Apps will remain there, but ASU chose for security reasons to migrate the 18,000 faculty and staff from on-premises software to BPOS. "They looked at free offerings, but they didn't offer the security that an institution with half a billion in research [money] needed," Smith said.
ASU students in the future will have the option to sign up for Windows Live IDs via Microsoft's Live@edu service.
The city of Miami also is using a Microsoft cloud solution -- Windows Azure, the company's cloud-computing infrastructure -- to power an online 311 information and reporting service for city residents. The move from a telephone-based system to an online system took only eight days to deploy, Smith said.