What is the future of the cloud in government IT applications? GPN reached out to Red Hat’s Gunnar Hellekson to get some answers. Hellekson is chief strategist for Red Hat US Public Sector. Here are Hellekson’s views.

GPN: What are the main ways that governments are using the cloud today?

Gunnar Hellekson: Many are using public cloud services, especially for commoditized work like e-mail systems and running public websites. Others are building their own clouds for web and mobile applications, using platforms like OpenStack. A lot are trying to make their existing virtualized systems feel like clouds by adding self-service portals and more automation. Most are doing all three at the same time.

It's still early. Most governments are still learning the mechanics: how to make the economics work, how to govern different cloud platforms, how to charge internal departments by the hour, and so on.

GPN: How will they use it in the future?

GH: Once you're past the policy and procurement issues, the cloud offers wonderful opportunities. If you've ever skipped a project because the capital costs were too high, been afraid to experiment with a new technology, or reluctant to add complexity to your data center, a cloud infrastructure can help. I think the rush of cloud tools and services is just a means to and end, which is much more experimentation and innovation inside government.

GPN: What cloud applications offer the most benefit to local and state governments?

GH: Infrastructure-as-a-service is easy to understand, and software-as-a-service is easy to buy, but platform-as-a-service (PaaS) has the greatest rewards. A PaaS gives developers and software vendors on-demand access to a standard development environment. That means building more applications more quickly, and it's much easier to manage them all at a large scale because they're all using one standardized infrastructure underneath.

I see many agencies using PaaS as a way to more easily work with software vendors and contractors. It lets you draw a line in the infrastructure, where the agency can standardize and automate for efficiency below that line, and the developers can be creative and innovative above the line. It's a nice compromise.

GPN: Does Red Hat have any advice for local government officials on implementing an IT setup that includes a cloud component?

GH: Plan for a hybrid cloud. You'll always have some traditional work, and some cloud work, and you don't want different management and tools for each. When you're worried about configuration management, or patching a security problem, you shouldn't care where the systems live. So you want management tools and development practices that make it as easy to work on-premise as it is in a cloud.

That also means you need an exit strategy for all your cloud work. If you're locked into one cloud or tool vendor, you've lost much of the advantage the cloud can give you.

GPN: What is really important in the process that governments need to focus on?

GH: What happens when everyone gets the power to create any infrastructure they want with the swipe of a credit card? That's what we have now. As you think about how to use the cloud alongside all your other tools, with the governance and standards and oversight that brings, you don't want to stifle the benefits of that kind of creative power.

GPN: Thank you, Gunnar Hellekson, for your views.

Red Hat aims to be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.

In the video, experts from Red Hat talk about moving public sector agencies and IT operations into the cloud.

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