Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cloud Confusion and the DoD

Last week the Department of Defense announced a new private cloud computing environment called RACE (Rapid Access Computing Environment). This was an announcement that received a ton of attention in blogs and the circles of cloud computing advocates and naysayers. The frustrating thing about announcements and the ensuing arguments that take place afterward is that there are very few people that really understand what cloud computing is and all of the facets that are involved. The problem really stems from the over-use of the term "cloud computing" to cover what seems to be every application that runs in your browser. Just because you don't know where the actual server is located, or because it runs in your browser does not make something cloud computing. As soon as the announcement was made about RACE, the comparisons to Google came flying in. First of all, this is not even the right comparison. I am behind using cloud computing for government applications, but if we are going to compare the systems, let's at least compare them fairly. RACE is more of an IaaS cloud service and Google is both SaaS (GMail, Google Docs, etc) and PaaS (AppEngine). It seems more fairly compared to the single service of EC2 provided by Amazon. I would love to take a deep dive into RACE, but unfortunately, and as expected for security, it is only available to someone with a government card or clearance. What they do say on the website though is that provisioning after a request only takes 24 hours. Is that truly on demand computing? Call me spoiled being able to provision dozens of servers with a single web service request in 5 to 10 minutes, but that is what I expect from a system now that claims to be on-demand. This is a great direction and good start for DISA. It is very encouraging to see the activity in the government space around cloud computing. We really need to stop lumping every cloud computing service or offering under the single banner of Cloud Computing. People will continue to make their offerings sound better than others with unfair comparisons and statistics. A common language and standard is needed for fair comparison. Until then, let the spin go on!


Crystal Bedell said...

Hi Troy,

I'm researching RACE for a copywriting project (which is how I found your post) and it's my understanding that the 24 hour turn-around is for processing the credit card transaction. While I agree 24 hours isn't exactly on-demand, it's closer to on-demand than the several months it takes the government to procure hardware. I get the impression that many of the benefits of the service are in DISA's favor anyway. Standardizing the development environment and eliminating the procurement process makes DISA's job easier -- plus they're getting paid for RACE.

Troy Tolle said...

Thanks for the comment. I am not sure why there is a 24-hour turnaround as I did not attempt to gain access to the system. That being said, I can see your point in that 24 hours for the government is practically "warp speed". I would say that I am still at a loss even then as I don't know of any credit card gateways that will not give you approval code immediately instead of when you batch. Feel free to post a link to your project here as I will be interested in what you find.

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