Will Steve Ballmer's Microsoft & Obama's Administration Share A Cloud?

Much has been written about Steve Ballmer's almost fanatic focus on cloud computing this month. With catchphrases like "we're all in" and "the cloud fuels Microsoft and Microsoft fuels the cloud" he makes it sound like his company is the lone pioneer in the field. Or when he does allude to Google, Amazon and Apple it is done in a dismissive manner. Could this ramp-up of 'all-things-cloud' be part of a larger alliance Ballmer is solidifying with the Obama Administration?

Ballmer's email to staffBallmer's email to staff

Coming off a speech he made at the University of Washington, and coupled with the roll-out of a "Microsoft-Cloud Services" Web site and a memorandum sent to his staff (where he mentioned the word "cloud" no less than two dozen times), Ballmer's obsessive cloud-focus was reported and analyzed in hundreds of news articles and blogs. Oddly and less reported was a curious visit made to Microsoft's office by Obama's number one IT guru, Vivek Kundra. The meeting date overlapped their presentations made at UW. Curious timing wouldn't you say?

Upon further investigation (based on my own speculation, of course) I knitted together the two stories to see if Obama, Kundra and Ballmer might possibly be floating a trial balloon to consider a collaborative cloud initiative.

Same Speaking Venue/ Same Topic

In back-to-back appearances, speaking at the same university on the same date, Kundra highlightedVivek KundraVivek Kundra the Obama Administration's IT plan to modernize the government's technology infrastructure, by shifting to (yes, you guessed it) - cloud computing. In his speech, Kundra explained some of the basics of what the US government would require from cloud computing services.

Kundra specifically referenced the efforts developed by Microsoft to make its cloud-computing services comply with the guidelines of governmental agencies.

Microsoft's Building Its Cloud To Protect Governments

Ron MarkezichRon MarkezichIn a related story, Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online agreed that Microsoft's focus on securing its cloud would "apply to many federal agencies and suppliers" to "comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulations."  In a TechFlash report, Markezich said, "Microsoft will be the first and only cloud provider to offer this level of protection for governments."

"This administration in Washington actually has a much more open tone around going to the cloud, using new technologies," he said, crediting that in part to the tone set by Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer. "Where you might have said in the past that the public sector is a laggard in new technology, I would actually argue in the cloud they're one of the leaders."

Microsoft's Cloud Computing Extends To China

Supporting Microsoft's intent to bring governments (in general) into its 'cloud fold," a Microsoft executive indicated that the company plans to stay the course in China, despite the recent dispute between Google and the Chinese Government that saw the search-engine giant threatening to pull its operations out of the country.

"Regardless of whether or not Google stays, we will aggressively promote our search and cloud computing in China," Zhang Yaqin, Microsoft’s chairperson of its Asia-Pacific R&D Group, told Reuters on March 5 (curiously around the same date that Ballmer and Kundra were meeting to discuss the US's cloud computing initiatives). "We hope to achieve a relatively important place in the China search market…but we must be very patient, we need a lot of time."

Why The US Government Needs Cloud Computing

At a presentation Kundra made at NASA last fall, he hightlights why Obama's administration is favoring cloud computing and the necessary shift that's required to make this happen efficiently and expeditiously. (note: the first couple of minutes of this YouTube video presents a short overview of the benefits of cloud computing and why its such an important option for the federal government).

During Kundra's Microsoft visit, he reinforced the rationale behind the administration's decision. "The market is responding to the demand from the federal government around services that we’re interested in," he said. "In shifting more toward cloud computing, the government wants to move away from investing on its own in computing infrastructure that can quickly become obsolete."

However, also noted was the fact the US could not achieve this goal on their own when dealing with a bureaucracy the size of the US government.  With 1,100 data centers and more than 24,000 websites, it will take the assistance of third party (the likes of Microsoft).

When asked about cloud computing standards, Kundra said the "government doesn't want to set the standards, but instead wants to make sure that there's a platform for the industry to work out the details."
Which leads us back to the original question this blog posed: Will Obama appoint Steve Ballmer the Cloud-Wrangler-In-Chief for his administration? And is that the reason Ballmer has been so adamant about moving forward at warp speed? Can Obama put all his eggs in Microsoft's basket, or will Google, Apple or Amazon obtain a piece of the action? Based on these preliminary findings my guess is Ballmer and Obama's collaboration will prove that their 'cloudy judgement' can produce a sound and rational outcome in the very foreseeable future.

Perhaps another tip-off?... when Kundra was asked about Windows 7, he said he's upgraded to the operating system "at a personal level" and "we're in a process right now" of creating a standard federal configuration of the operating system. Sounds like that makes Apple - the odd-man out!