Think Big Data, and many of us think Big Government. In a recent white paper called Governing the Cloud, Granicus CTO Javier Muniz and CEO Tom Spengler offer five reasons why the cloud is going to make government and large enterprise governance easier.

Cloud Computing Take-up

Although the advantages of cloud computing, at least on a theoretical level, have been argued within an inch of their lives, the figures just don’t stack up. There has been a shift in the way companies are looking at the cloud, but many are still reluctant to go there.

Even in the mainstream media, there are weekly reports about the cloud and the risks of cloud computing, so survey after survey still shows that companies are dragging their heels on this, despite the clear economic advantages.

In many cases, though, there is a lack of understanding of what the cloud actually is. For the sake of this paper, and using the definition provided by Muniz and Spengler, the term “cloud," which has become synonymous with “the Internet,” is defined by the The National Institute of Standards and Technology as:

…a model provides access to a shared pool of resources that’s readily available to users over the Internet and can be provisioned with minimal effort..”

Cloud Computing Advantages

Within that wide generalization there are many things people use every day including SaaS, and PaaS, all of which can provide advantages to government and business, especially in difficult economic times.

The problem for the government, and associated agencies is that there are literally millions of attempts every year to hack into government data centers, and businesses are afraid of that.

This is particularly true of areas of public data access, which are the first point of connection between the government and the digital citizen.

But in an era that prides itself on (more) open government, many agencies are looking to the cloud to automate data publishing, using secure and scalable web-based tools. While it is never possible to completly secure any application, security enhancements have made it a lot more secure than you might be led to believe.

The result is that the government is turning to cloud computing for five reasons:

1. Cost

According to Granicus, the main reason that government organizations and businesses are moving to the cloud is to cut costs and that, in many cases, it is looking to migrate its data there as well.

In fact, so convinced is the US government of the efficacy of the cloud that the former US Chief Communication Office, Vivek Kundra, earlier this year instigated the Federal Cloud Computing strategy that encourages the adoption of web-based applications.

For governments, or enterprises for that matter, it is easier to budget for SaaS and cloud services as they come on monthly subscriptions enabling organizations to pay as they go.

This also provides the added advantage of not being locked into expensive legacy systems, the maintenance of which is often as expensive as full SaaS models.

2. Operational efficiencies

While there are considerable economic advantages to using the cloud in terms of the reduction in the amount of time saved by staff, there are other operational efficiencies too.

While it is difficult to add new applications to the portfolio of applications available when an agency or company is using legacy systems -- even if the money is there, the planning for integration can be a nightmare -- applications can be added at will using the cloud model.

In many cases, the packages that are being offered by companies will include a list of other applications available from a given vendor that are associated with, and work with existing applications. Good vendors will also offer the possibility of using applications as needed and discarding them when not needed.

This has the advantage of cutting down on IT costs too, as well as ensuring that your existing IT infrastructure does not go into meltdown as you add or subtract applications.

And then there is the advantage of updates. With multi-tenant offerings, all system improvements are made for all cloud tenants at the same time, without having to shut down the system.

3. Security

The big flea in the cloud-ointment is security -- and scaremongering that goes with it. While there is little doubt that in the early cloud days security was an issue, the different cloud models have improved, and with them the security offerings available. Going back to Kundra, he argued in his paper on Federal cloud computing strategies that, according to the information he has received, the threat to the cloud is grossly exaggerated.

If a private company argued it, you might say there was self-interest involved; but it’s the Feds, and at the best of times they’re a pretty paranoid bunch when it comes to information.

The appeal of the cloud is such that Amazon, Google and Microsoft are all providing cloud services, and for the government too, complying with umpteen-million regulatory requirements.

The alternative to storing data in the public cloud is storing it locally in-house or in expensive offsite data centers. Internally housed servers are typically placed in onsite storage rooms with minimal safeguarding and non-redundant backups and require staff time to maintain and support.

4. Productivity

Cloud-based computing frees staff from the restraints of a desk and gives them access to content anywhere and at any time as long as they have an Internet connection.

It also enables considerably more collaboration than traditional computing. Think of the time savings and efficiency produced from enabling people to work on a document concurrently from anywhere. Teams can communicate regularly and keep track of projects, small and large.

5. Scalability

Scalability means that departments and organizations can grow or diminish their cloud presence without any great difficulty; you get what you pay for.

By leveraging a shared infrastructure, government agencies and companies can expand or reduce services as needed and adjust to meet demand. Customers pay for only what they need but are protected by a pool of shared resources should something unforeseen occur.

Also think in terms of information spikes. The cloud provides a network and infrastructure that can accommodate even the biggest spikes. To do that on-premise would involve considerable investment in servers and hardware, most of which won’t be used outside of the "spike" periods.

This is particularly true of services, or companies that are using multimedia elements such as video, where demand for specific items goes up and down according to the popularity of that content.

While these five points may seem obvious, they are often overlooked, even if they are the most common considerations from a business perspective.

Over the coming month, we will be taking a deeper look at cloud computing, during which time we will revisit the issue of cloud security.