clouds over the capitol“The budget deficit” and “cloud computing” are two buzzwords that we hear all the time, but could they possibly be connected? We all know about the growing budget deficit; it blows through America’s economy like a dark wind. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it topped 1.3 trillion for the 2011 fiscal year. Yes, that’s trillion with a “t.” Twelve zeroes. That’s an amount almost beyond human comprehension.

There are lots of ideas out there for ways to reduce the deficit. “Raise taxes,” say some pundits as they wring clammy hands from behind glossy desks. “Cut federal spending by slashing welfare programs or military spending,” say others as they gaze intensely from the widescreen studio. But what about saving money without cutting back on anything? That’s where cloud computing comes back into the discussion.

For those of you not yet using it, cloud computing is, basically, the nebulous “cloud” of networks, data bases and offsite storage that providers link together to offer as a package of services to end users. The beauty of cloud services is that information stored in “the cloud” is not tied to a single computer, such as the laptop in your den. Documents, data and even photo files stored in the cloud are accessible anywhere, anytime, as long as you have access to a computer that’s connected to the Internet. Data stored this way isn’t lost when a single computer — yours, perhaps — gets a virus or suffers a hard drive failure. Even if your computer burns in a house fire, your data will still be there the next time you log back onto the Internet.

So, back to the deficit problem. A recent article on stated that the federal government is already saving American taxpayers nearly $5.5 billion every year by using cloud computing services. Sounds great, right? But, the article points out, we could all be saving an additional $12 billion annually if the government were more aggressive in its migration to cloud-based services. What’s holding it back? Right now, security is a big concern. The government stores and handles literally billions of pieces of sensitive data: some of it personally sensitive, like social security numbers, the rest of it nationally sensitive. Concerns for the quality of service available is also a problem for some decision makers. Another reason cited for holding back the changeover is “culture.” Simply put, those in charge aren’t comfortable with the idea of changing.

While some of these concerns are valid, most of them can be addressed. The question remains, however, if our government decides the time is right to change to cloud computing, are there companies out there that might be up to the challenge? The answer to that question is, yes. Rackspace, for instance, an Internet hosting company, is already blazing trails into the enterprise-level cloud services industry and might be well positioned to take on large government contracts. The company is considered a leader in the field of large-scale cloud distribution and is not tied directly to retail like other enterprise level providers a la Amazon

Security is still a major concern, and justifiably so. National security is of vital importance in the digital age. And, on a more personal level, we’ve all heard the horror stories connected with identity theft. But, if companies can assure us, and our government, that they can guarantee the security of the data they will be handling, switching to cloud computing might just be a win-win situation for hosting companies and the federal deficit.