Ballmer's cloud computing memo timed for US election

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has issued a memo on cloud computing that suggests that "dramatic transformation" is set to take place in the US IT industry after the election.

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has issued a memo on cloud computing that suggests that "dramatic transformation" is set to take place in the US IT industry after the election.

As next week's election approaches, Ballmer has issued a memo entitled "A Platform for the Next Technology Revolution", which is preparing Washington for a huge change in technology platforms.

In the days immediately following the election, the president-elect will dispatch transition teams. And since both Barack Obama and John McCain's campaigns have relied heavily on social networking sites and other cloud-based services to help their campaigns, these transition teams may come to Washington with a different attitude about what they want from federal IT systems.

That's why next week's election may create an opportunity for vendors to pitch new technology directions, and cloud services adoption in particular, said Michael Farber, a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm with a number of federal clients.

Farber said he believes the period following the election will be a fertile time to "structure a pilot and forge a partnership with Google."

Ballmer's memo, which echoed the sweeping, change-is-at-hand message of Bill Gates' 1995 Internet Tidal Wave memo, bundles the cloud, social networking, and the diversity of access devices, to argue that a "dramatic transformation" is taking place in IT. The vendors are already pushing federal IT managers to adopt some of these changes.

Microsoft and other cloud services providers including Google, believe their platforms can handle the government's most sensitive material. The vendors say they can tackle security issues with their cloud services.

Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online, said he believes the company's new cloud platform Windows Azure would meet classified requirements, regardless of if it is in one of Microsoft's data centres or one operated by a partner. The U.S. already uses private data centre providers for some of its classified data processing, he pointed out.

One issue that could pose a problem for cloud providers may be the availability of bandwidth. Nicholas Carr, author of a recent book on IT's role in the world titled The Big Switch, has asked if with Web services' increase if the U.S. might become "bandwidth capacity constrained" and require businesses and government to prioritise certain traffic.

Markezich said bandwidth was a "real issue," but said an answer could be less bandwidth-intensive software. Client caching would help as well, he said. "This view that everything is going to be on the server and nothing is going to be on the client, I don't think is realistic for the world."

At least one federal government IT organisation, the US Defense Information Systems Agency's, has adopted cloud computing as its internal IT model. The agency adopted a cloud platform for internal use, in part to be make assembling information quickly for soldiers in the field. CIO John Garing argued this summer that cloud technologies will be the future of military processing. "We have to get to this standard environment that is provisionable and scalable," he said in a recent interview.