U.S. Policy Advisors Call on IEEE for Counsel

IEEE representatives provide advice on cloud computing, the smart grid, and competitiveness

2 August 2010

Developing strategies for secure cloud computing, accelerating standards development for the smart grid, and finding ways to increase U.S. competitiveness in sustainable manufacturing projects: These are the topics that top IEEE executives and members have been asked for advice on over the last year by officials of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

IEEE's chief information officer Alexander Pasik was among the private sector representatives who were invited to Washington, D.C., in May to meet with the deputy secretary of commerce, the administration's chief information officer, and its cyber security coordinator to strategize on how to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing. Increasingly, computing is shifting from desktops and data centers to "the cloud"—the Internet—where use of widely shared computer resources results in improved efficiencies, lower costs, and wider availability of information. The summit looked at case studies of U.S. government agencies that had already begun to shift some of their operations from mainframes and servers to the Web.

The U.S. government established a cloud computing strategy in 2009 aimed at lowering the cost of its operations and using technology to help change the way Washington works, but further research is needed to develop standards to make the system secure. IEEE is a major player in this effort. It has been working since February with the nonprofit Cloud Security Alliance to identify problem areas and develop best practices and standards to help address them.

"The administration is bullish on cloud computing but there is a lot of hesitation by the commercial sector about using the cloud," says Pasik, an IEEE member. "People are concerned about privacy, security, and authentication, and are also afraid they won't own the data once they're out there. IEEE was asked at the summit to work with other standards organizations to establish security standards so companies will be more willing to use the [cloud] technology."

Discussions on the smart grid between IEEE and key Obama administration officials began in May 2009 when IEEE Member George Arnold, deputy director of technology services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, asked IEEE executive director and chief operating officer James Prendergast to attend a meeting on the smart grid with 60 executives from utility companies, technology providers, trade associations, and standards development organizations. Arnold is also the national coordinator for smart grid interoperability.

IEEE has considerable expertise in the smart grid, with more than 2500 papers on the topic in over 40 journals. It has also held more than 100 technical sessions at various IEEE society meetings and has so far published nearly 100 standards.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke convened the smart grid meeting to discuss ways to accelerate the development of standards. "It's quite clear that governments worldwide as well as those in the administration recognize that IEEE is a key stakeholder and plays a prominent role in standards development," says Prendergast, an IEEE senior member.

In early July IEEE Fellow John McDonald gave testimony on the progress of standards for smart grid interoperability and cyber security before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation and House Committee on Science and Technology. McDonald is the director of technical strategy and policy development for GE's Digital Energy business.

"As one of the leading sources of smart grid expertise, IEEE is focused on driving technology advancements needed for smart grid infrastructure development," McDonald said. "Providing input on the system architecture and standards that must be in place to ensure the transformation of our nation's electrical grid to a more automated, interactive, and intuitive power-delivery system is the perfect platform for the IEEE Smart Grid [group] to lend its expertise."

In October 2009, Prendergast received another invitation, this time to attend the Sustainability and U.S. Competitiveness Summit at the Commerce Department, also hosted by Secretaries Chu and Locke. More than 120 representatives from private industry, industry associations, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and major U.S. government agencies heard about what the department's Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative has accomplished in the last two years. The initiative aims to help U.S. companies manufacture products with processes that minimize negative environmental impacts; conserve energy and natural resources; are safe for employees, communities, and consumers; and are economically sound. The group discussed challenges related to sustainable manufacturing that face U.S. industry and identified possible business opportunities.

Prendergast had a one-on-one meeting with Secretary Locke, in which he discussed the business opportunities he saw and also briefed the commerce secretary on IEEE's efforts in sustainable technology. IEEE, Prendergast pointed out, has an extensive library of related articles in its many journals.

"I wanted to make sure this community was aware of IEEE's significant efforts in green energy, which touches many of IEEE's fields of interest," he says. As for the discussions with government, "We're involved in these events because it helps increase our public visibility," Prendergast continues. "Such meetings also build relationships and ensure that our voice is heard and that we're part of the decision-making process."

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