If Healthcare.gov were running on a true cloud, it’d be much better off

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It’s been nearly impossible to avoid coverage of the many different problems facing Healthcare.gov.

A statement from Terremark, which is providing the backend service for the Healthcare.gov site, gives us a bit of insight into just one of those problems. Despite all the talk about the government adopting cloud computing, it appears that Healthcare.gov isn't actually using the cloud. Instead, it sounds like it's running in an old-school hosted environment.

“Since HHS asked us to provide additional compute and storage capacity, our engineers have worked 24/7 to trouble-shoot issues with the site. At the request of HHS’s deputy CIO, we are now undertaking infrastructure maintenance, which should be complete overnight. We anticipate the strengthened infrastructure will help eliminate application downtimes,” Verizon, Terremark’s owner, said in the statement it issued late on Tuesday.

One of the benefits of the public cloud is that applications can scale automatically as needed. That’s why large Internet startups prefer public clouds – they don’t have to guess how popular they’ll be. Just run the service on Amazon Web Services and scale up according to demand.

Were Healthcare.gov running in a true cloud environment, it wouldn’t have to manually order up additional compute and storage capacity and wait for it to be provisioned, while users are prevented from accessing the overloaded site.

Because Healthcare.gov is a federal service, strict security regulations might be to blame for the technology decision that limited the backend service to be essentially a hosting environment rather than a true cloud.

“The combination of the federal government and health-care info on US citizens has got to be a regulatory mine-field,” said Michael Cote, an analyst with The 451 Group. “As such, I’d wager much of the drag around this whole thing is due to the expensive, slow requirements such regulations drive.”

Still, it should have been possible for the healthcare site to comply with those regulations just by working with a provider like Terremark that's jumped through the necessary hoops required to take on federal contracts. Using a hosting environment rather than a scalable cloud doesn't make sense for a service like this with an unknown demand.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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