Kundra: Cloud computing standards next step for feds

For the practice to become widespread, the federal government must develop common processes to ensure agencies don't duplicate inefficiencies from data centers.

Standards for security, interoperability and data portability are needed to drive forward the massive transition to cloud computing under way across government, the nation's top technology chief said on Thursday.

"We want to be pragmatic, but aggressive," said federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra.

He added the consolidation of federal data centers that the White House announced in February was the first of numerous "game-changing approaches" that will drive the move to cloud computing that the Office of Management and Budget announced in September 2009.

For cloud computing to become widespread, the federal government must develop standards so agencies don't duplicate inefficiencies in data centers, Kundra said during the keynote speech at the Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop the National Institute of Standards and Technology hosted in Washington.

"What's important today is the [development of standards] in the area of security, interoperability and data portability" to ensure information is protected, clouds and the computer applications they support can work together, and content can be moved within and among different clouds without jeopardizing access to or integrity of the data, Kundra said.

NIST created the Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart Adoption of Cloud Computing project to encourage agencies to develop standards using an Internet portal where government and industry can exchange ideas and information about specifications and use scenarios, and test the standards before they are released. NIST also is working on special publications that will incorporate the project's cloud computing standards.

To promote security standards, government officials developed the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), a multiagency initiative that offers joint services to certify information systems used in cloud environments meet federal security guidelines, including continuous network monitoring. The program is based on risk management processes NIST defined in Special Publication 800-37.

"With FedRAMP, we're centrally certifying solutions [as secure] so we can create cross-government platforms," Kundra said. By doing so, the government will realize savings and value much faster, encouraging more agencies to adopt cloud solutions, he added.

"It's exciting to see the government act like a proper, large customer," said Stephen Schmidt, chief information security officer at Amazon.com, which provides cloud computing services to public and private sector organizations. "The federal government has always been a challenging customer to work with, because they didn't have a common idea of what they wanted to do."