Now, Even the Government Has an App StoreBy Miguel Helft
On Tuesday, Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, unveiled Apps.Gov, a Web site where federal agencies will able to buy so-called cloud computing applications and services that have been approved by the government to replace more costly and cumbersome computing services at their own locations.
The push to promote cloud computing is part of the Obama administration’s effort to modernize the government’s information technology systems and to help reduce the $75 billion annual budget for federal I.T. in the process.
The apps storefront, which is run by the General Services Administration, includes an array of business applications, productivity software, services like storage and Web hosting and social applications. In a speech at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Mr. Kundra said that the cloud offerings could be cheaper and more energy-efficient and allow the federal government to benefit from the same technological advances that most consumers enjoy.
“Why should the government pay and build infrastructure that may be available for free?” he said. Some applications are free, and even if the government has to pay for the software, it might avoid the cost of buying servers and building data centers.
“In these tough economic times, the government must buy smarter,” he said.
Mr. Kundra noted that it will take time for federal agencies to move to cloud computing, a model in which software is delivered over the Web rather than installed on individual PCs or local servers. He said government policies — and the privacy and security standards at tech companies wishing to sell cloud services to the government — had to evolve.
“We recognize that this is not going to happen overnight,” he said.
More details of Mr. Kundra’s vision for the future of federal I.T. are available on the White House blog.
The event was attended by executives from several of the companies that are offering cloud computing services to government agencies, including Salesforce.com, Google, Microsoft, Adobe Systems, Facebook, and Vimeo.
Among the most well known of those executives was Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder, who made the quick jaunt from Google’s campus to NASA Ames in his Tesla Roadster, an electric car. Mr. Brin is used to making the trip — he keeps a handful of personal jets at the adjacent Moffett Field — but in this case, he arrived late.
In contrast with the more formally dressed federal government employees present, Mr. Brin wore his trademark casual attire: A black t-shirt, khakis and pair of thin-soled Vibram FiveFinger shoes.
In an impromptu briefing, Mr. Brin and other Google executives announced that his company would dedicate a part of its computing infrastructure to serve the federal government exclusively. This “government cloud” would have all the familiar apps that Google offers businesses, but would be designed to meet government requirements.
Mr. Brin said it was natural for Google to want to expand its customer base to the federal government. “The U.S. government is probably the largest enterprise I know of,” he said. And having cloud computing services deep inside the government would have an ancillary benefit for Google and others. Mr. Brin said policy makers and government officials who use cloud computing services would be less likely to push for policies that harm such services. “If you use something, you understand it better,” he said.