So I don't know about anyone else, but I was kind of creeped out when I ran across this news story from the WSJ last night. It talks about how Microsoft and Google are bidding for contracts to run email services for different Federal Organizations on their respective clouds. Currently, most large organizations maintain specific computers called email servers for managing their corporate email. These email servers are often expensive to run, so to save money many small businesses and even some larger businesses (like the University of Georgia) have started using cloud services - where the hardware is maintained by whatever company is providing the email service. One of the major benefits is performance. Think of it as a co-op of sorts, but for processing power. But the flip side to this is that those organizations give up most of the control they have over their email server configuration, specifically in the area of security.
Hypothetical situation: Let's say you have organization A, with a small and cheap email server capable of sorting emails into inboxes at 1 email per second. If they have a busy day where emails start coming in faster than that - they have a problem. (For those who were wondering, this similar to the problem the University of Georgia was facing with their old email system.)
The solution? Use the cloud. Think of the cloud as a bunch of these small server strung together. So if you have five or six organizations on a small cloud built out of cheap email servers - then on the occasion that organization A has more email than any of the others, the cloud can intelligently distribute those emails across all of the physical servers on the cloud and work with the same speed of one much more powerful email server at a fraction of the cost.
[caption id="attachment_438" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Conceptual Illustration of "The Cloud""][/caption]
While there are a lot of benefits to this for everyone that is involved in the move to cloud computing, it does make me kind of nervous that President Obama would like to see federal organizations hosting their email on these clouds. Essentially, instead of maintaining the security on these emails servers itself (since they won't be working on the physical servers anymore), the Federal Government would be offloading that responsibility onto whatever organization they contract with for cloud email. And we all know that, at least in Microsoft's case, these organizations may or may not be good at maintaining good security measures.
I highly suspect that there will be a number of organizations that resist this trend. I don't see Area 51 or the CIA having their email maintained on the cloud, for example. But the IRS? Those bean counters would go for it in a heartbeat. And not to mention that the idea of having regulatory agencies host their email on the cloud just sounds like a scandal in the making.
So, am I alone in this or does the idea of the federal government hosting their email with private companies unnerve you too? Leave me some love in the comments.