NIST releases cloud computing roadmap

The government should establish common cloud computing products and services standards so agencies can easily shift their business to a new provider if their current vendor isn't meeting their needs, a government technology reviewer said Tuesday.

Without those standards, agencies may invest in major cloud programs that are quickly made obsolete by a superior competitor, according to the draft Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap from the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Agencies also might get locked into overpriced services because of high switching costs, the NIST document said.

Most agencies are able to change cloud providers, the report said, but not without an intervening step during which data is moved into noncloud storage.

The government is in the early stages of a massive program to move roughly one-fourth of its $80 billion annual information technology budget to computer cloud storage.

Computer clouds are essentially large banks of servers that pack together data more efficiently than in-house servers. Users that store their data in computer clouds can access it from any device because it's not tied to a physical office and they pay for cloud storage space like a utility, spending only for the space they actually use.

In addition, the government should come up with a more complete list of security requirements that address cloud computing's unique dangers, the NIST document said, such as the large scale of cloud storage and the likelihood that many clouds that federal agencies use also will store data from other departments or mix data from both the public and private sectors.

"Cloud computing is still in an early deployment stage and standards are crucial to increased adoption," the roadmap said.

The Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration are working on a governmentwide security certification for cloud services known as FedRAMP, which is due out in the next few months.

The roadmap also advocated creating better standard service agreements between cloud providers and government customers, drawing up consistent definitions of cloud services, and developing frameworks for cloud sharing between federal agencies.

NIST described the first draft of the roadmap as intentionally broad, with many requirements identified that are "intuitive and common for the adoption of any emerging technology." The document was drawn up following a series of public workshops, working groups and meetings with different agencies.