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‘Cloud First’ Does Not Mean Colo-First

With the federal government pushing to adopt cloud computing, agency IT managers are faced with sorting out important details from a variety information sources. One point of confusion: Does cloud computing entail colocation? The answer: No, it does not.

The U.S. Chief Information Officer (CIO) announced a “Cloud First” policy in December 2010 in order to improve federal agency performance and reduce operating costs. In collaboration with the CIO, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been facilitating and leading the development of standards for security, interoperability, and portability. NIST’s ‘thought leadership and guidance’ on cloud computing can be accessed via its helpful primer site:

Beware a vendor that uses the ‘cloud’ term as a marketing gimmick. Deliberately or deceptively describing a product or service as part of the ‘cloud’ when it isn’t is called ‘cloud washing’.

Moving to the cloud does not require moving data center assets to a remote site — also known as ‘colocation’. In fact, colocation of owned assets does not even qualify as moving to the cloud.

NIST led a collaborative process to develop a definition of cloud computing, which it released in September 2011 via its Special Publication 800 series as SP 800-145 (PDF). NIST’s definition reads:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

The comprehensive NIST definition goes on to specify the “five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models” that characterize cloud computing. Here is a quick outline of the five essential characteristics:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service

As you can see, colocation is not included in the NIST definition of cloud computing. While pursuing data center consolidation may eventually lead IT managers to consider colocation, it’s vital to recognize that colocation alone does not meet the intent of the Cloud First directive.

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