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Tech & Services

Taking the census to the clouds

Good or bad, cloud computing is making its way into just about every agency, business, and organization that could use a bit of off-site data storage. The route to good usage of cloud computing could be in its gradual adoption. Rather than placing all of one’s eggs in one basket, taking them a few at a time may be the best way to ensure one does not suffer from massive data loss.

The US Census Bureau has jumped onto the cloud computing bandwagon, though not with an “all in” stance. The government information gathering department recently revealed its tentative use of off-site data storage. The Bureau’s intent is to lower costs and increase service delivery time to the public as well as employees.

For those not in the know of the ins and outs of census taking, the entire planning process takes ten years to complete. The actual census itself takes only a few months. Currently the US Census Bureau is busy hiring over 1.4 million temporary employees, opening up 500 temporary offices, and contacting 170,000 potential partners in the whole process. When all the prep work is completed, 600 million forms will be mailed out. At the completion of the census, the Bureau will make budget cuts. It is these budget cuts that present a rather large task for the department.

One way the Bureau plans on alleviating some of the budget cutting work is in the usage of cloud computing. The web site for the 2010 census has Akamai as a content delivery network that will handle any major amounts of traffic. A payoff has already been realized by turning to Salesforce.com to store the data surrounding its 170,000 partners. In six weeks, Salesforce.com was able to deploy a customer database for the US Census Bureau – a task that normally takes months for most government agencies.

For the moment, the US Census Bureau is taking this new technology adoption at a slow and steady pace. This is perhaps for the best as we have already seen how very bad cloud computing can go if not attended to properly. Sidekick cell phone users suffering from the massive data loss of Danger cloud servers could be considered the consummate example of just how wrong things can go.

My one complaint? That you can’t fill out the census form online yet. That would be one massive budget cut. Perhaps we can look forward to that at the next census.

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