A top U.S. information technology official says the Obama administration is looking to cloud computing - or the ability to access software, data and computer applications anytime and everywhere - as a way to lower the cost of government operations and use technology to help change the way Washington works. Experts estimate the increased use of cloud computing technology could save local and federal governments billions of dollars each year.
Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer at the White House says that while the government is just beginning its efforts to make a shift to cloud computing - the intelligent use of technology can help cut costs, improve efficiency, promote innovation and shine a light into the performance of government.
"Imagine an environment, where we're able to look at any given agency, use the data that the government has democratized and share the performance, the same way we share You Tube videos," said Kundra.
Speaking at a forum in Washington Wednesday, hosted by the research group the Brookings Institute, Kundra says that while the wider shift to cloud computing could take at least a decade, the savings could add up.
Darrell West, the director of governance studies at Brookings agrees.
"We did case studies of local and federal government agencies and we found anywhere from 25 to 50 percent cost savings, and so there really are substantial savings," he said.
The U.S. government currently spends nearly $76 billion a year on information technology, with $20 billion of that spent on hardware, software and file servers.
Kundra's speech came on the same day that the U.S. government set as a deadline for all the federal agencies to publish their so called open government plans. The plans seek to make government operations and data more transparent and available online as well as expand citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight.
Kundra says cloud computing can help in ways such as streamlining and simplifying the student government loan process online to reducing government paperwork.
"Why is it that you can go online on Turbo Tax or Tax Cut and have access to three years of your tax records, yet when you go to IRS.gov you don't have access to the same level of information," added Kundra.
Kundra says that part of the reason for this is that the government's focus on how it uses technology needs to go through a dramatic shift. He notes that right now the focus is largely on the hardware - the building of data center after data center and purchasing server after server - instead of the options technology is creating.
He says that over the last decade, the United States went from having over 400 data centers to more than 1,100 data centers. And yet, he adds that server utilization at those centers is only at seven percent. That means that the government is on average using seven percent of the storage space in its servers. A number Kundra says is "unacceptable."
Kundra says that next month, the federal government will host a cloud computing summit and invite representatives from the private sector to attend. The summit will look at case studies of government agencies that have already begun the shift to put some of their operations in the clouds.
The urgent push by governments is a trend that is being felt across the globe. According to a survey released earlier this week by Global Industry Analysts, a market research group, the worldwide cloud computing economy is set to grow by $200 billion over the next five years.