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Cloudy with a Chance of Clarity: NIST Seeks Public Comment on Draft Guide to Cloud Computing

New York, May 16, 2011

Next time you feel like your head’s in the clouds, don’t fret: that’s where the action is. Advancements in information technology have made it possible to store virtually endless amounts of information in a system of “clouds.” Opening numerous possibilities, cloud computing is on par with the Internet in terms of its potential to change the face of computing and the way we live and do business.

Cloud computing allows people to work and store information on the Internet, and access their documents anywhere. Whether you know it or not, if you’ve placed your photos on Flickr or started sharing files on Google Docs, you’re already in the cloud.

Still a developing area, its ultimate strengths and weakness are not yet fully researched, documented, and tested. In an effort to make definitions of cloud computing less nebulous and bring better clarity to its potential, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a draft guide, NIST Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations (Special Publication 800-146), giving recommendations on how and when cloud computing is an appropriate tool, and identifying areas for future analysis. NIST is accepting public comments on the draft through June 13, 2011.

According to NIST, attempts to describe cloud computing in general terms have been problematic because cloud computing is not a single kind of system, but rather spans a spectrum of underlying technologies, configuration possibilities, service models, and deployment models. As such, each organization's requirements call for different cloud technologies and configurations.

The document reviews the NIST-established definition of cloud computing, describes its current benefits and issues, and provides recommendations on how organizations should consider the opportunities and risks of cloud computing. NIST Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendation is available here. Public comments should be sent to by June 13, 2011.

U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has called upon NIST to lead federal efforts on standards for data portability, cloud interoperability, and security. The goal is to help the federal government reap the benefits of cloud computing. For more information on NIST’s cloud computing program, click here.

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