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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

FOSE shows a future in the clouds

I don’t think cloud computing was a specific theme at FOSE this year, but it sure had a strong presence.

There was a Cloud Camp, a Cloud Pavilion, and Booz Allen Hamilton had a Cloud Computing War Game. I had brief conversations with several executives who either said their companies were in cloud computing or looking at it as a growth strategy.

I had a more in-depth conversation about cloud computing with Tim May, senior vice president of corporate development at Apptis Inc., and Phil Horvitz, the company’s chief technology officer.

Their marketing materials tout the company as a leader in cloud computing in the government. I can’t judge that claim, but I did find their approach interesting.

In the past year, Apptis has embraced the concept of cloud computing as a differentiator for the company. They have partnered with ServerVault to create a cloud offering.

Apptis also is partnering with providers of cloud infrastructure such as Amazon, GoGrid and 3Tera.

Security (is my data safe?) and trust (is the cloud going to be there when I need it?) are among the biggest concerns of their government customers, May and Horwitz said.

Even it cloud computing is cheaper, don’t expect a rush to the cloud, they said. Most government agencies have huge investments in infrastructure. They aren’t going to dump that to jump into the cloud, no matter how trendy.

“You have to work within the reality that exists today,” May said. “Billions have been invested and you can’t expect them to rip that out.”

Part of Apptis’ strategy is to sell an agency what the company calls “surge computing.”

For example, for most of the year, an agency needs a certain level of computing capacity, and they can manage that in-house with no problem. But the agency might have seasonal demands or a disaster or other incident, when it needs extra capacity and needs it fast.

Apptis’ surge offering can step in and help provide that extra capacity.

The surge offering also is a way for an agency to get comfortable with the cloud.

Another part of their strategy that I found interesting was that they use the cloud themselves.

Horwitz told me that it took seven servers and 15 hours for the company to close their monthly financials. To shorten that time would mean adding more servers, which would cost money.

Instead, they turned to the cloud for the extra computing power.

The trouble was that the first time they tried it, it took 22 hours. A failure on the surface, but Horwitz said the company learned a lot about moving the data and creating the right architecture.

“No one knew how difficult it was to do that,” he said.

The company does now. Today, the monthly financials run in about five hours. and Apptis pays about $30 a month for the extra computing power, he said.

Business cases like that can be eye-openers for customers, May said.

I think cloud computing also can be a competitive advantage for mid-tier companies like Apptis. I don’t want to call the big players body shops, but part of their business model is based on providing people to run big systems. With the cloud, you don’t do that. You don’t need to keep adding equipment and staff support to your data center, for example.

Mid-tiers can compete for that work by offering the support as a cloud-computing solution. The agency just pays a fee, like paying an electric bill.

But as I said earlier I know companies such as Computer Sciences Corp., EDS and other large contractors are embracing the cloud.

Apptis and other mid-tiers might have a little bit of an advantage right now in that smaller players can move faster because of their size.

But I think the half-life of that advantage is going to shrink fast.

Life in the cloud is going to get busier and more competitive.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 20, 2009 at 9:53 AM

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