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November 22, 2010

HP Announces Cinematic G-Cloud for Government Evaluation

Nicole Hemsoth

For the most part, it’s been all quiet on the cloud front for HP until the recent announcement of its G-Cloud Theatre, which formally introduces their vision of secure, flexible cloud computing for government use.

Currently in the testbed stage, HP Labs is presenting the G-Cloud as a demo to IT professionals in the public sector to show how services can be constructed from hosted components with a management layer on top—and of course, with one security feature piled atop another.

On the security front, the HP G-Cloud Theatre facility, located in Bristol, England is intended to “demonstrate ways in which cloud-based systems can withstand even the most serious threats and attack” and is based on technology that’s still in HP’s research pipeline. Targets for this facility include honing how virtual machines monitor other VMs, how suspicious behavior generating in the CPU and I/O are identified and handled, and how automation policies can be put into place to protect systems via shutdown, cloning and isolation if a threat is detected.

As Martin Sadler, director of the Cloud and Security Lab at HP said, the security responses are similar to those of a human body. “The G-Cloud can automatically respond to a threat, making a calculation of its seriousness and producing the equivalent of white blood cells to counteract it. When the threat has been removed and those resources are no longer required, it goes back to its previous state.”

Highly secure government facilities are indeed a priority, but to some, this could sound like a system administrator’s worst nightmare and best friend wrapped into one. While possible threats could be thwarted, there are extensive shut down and isolation procedures that are automated across the system based solely on abnormal CPU patterns. Anyone who has used any security software on a home computer is already familiar enough with this paradigm.

Despite this questionable aspect, the G-Cloud gets bonus points for its futuristic factor. As an elaborate Philip K. Dick-esque complement, “visibility of the server estate is provided by an innovate administrative console with a touchscreen user interface that generates 3-D images of server activity. For example, it depicts levels of utilization, the ease with which new services can be deployed or taken down, and how resources can be dynamically reallocated from one services cell to another.”

In Sadler’s view, “It’s like a game or a movie where you have a virtual walkthrough of everything that’s going in the cloud…you can zoom in for more granular detail or pan out to get a panoramic view.”

Wow. Government IT just a lot more interesting today…

Then again, there was no real mention of glass Minority Report interfaces per se, but if they’re calling this touchscreen UI a “console” (gaming, anyone) then what are we supposed to think? Bling? Yes. Big government….hmmm.

Granted, this is just a tad off topic but the only governments that have what amounts to what’s pictured on the left for general purpose use are fictional ones in the far-off future. It will take far more than cinematic bells and whistles and what could potentially be cripplingly sensitive security protocols to lure governments to the cloud.

Governments are being pitched on the cloud computing idea by any number of vendors recently but for relative latecomer to the niche-defining race, HP lagged somewhat behind. Unfortunately, it will need to compete with the slew of offerings put forth for this same sector by IBM, another household name—and one with strong ties to government and research already.

While they might not have the Minority Report appeal that HP’s initial release seems to boast, IBM’s government cloud initiative, which is blanketed under what it calls the Federal Community Cloud, provides a cloud platform that runs across agencies and also has security policies as a primary goal. IBM has made inroads in the United States with this effort when it was able to sign on 15 agencies, including the coveted Departments of Defense and Homeland Security (what better way to associate your brand with high security priorities) as well as less James Bond-like agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

IBM has also stretched out a hand to smaller subsets of government via its Municipal Shared Services Cloud that extends the same services to local governments.

HP might be able to gain some traction in the U.K. where the host research center is based that now supports the G-Cloud effort but for now, government cloud adoption in Europe is lagging behind that in the United States. If the company is able to secure a strong foothold and convince government IT leaders of its usefulness (and not just wow them with the cool interface) this could mark a new phase in HP’s overall cloud strategy market segment-wise.

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