State governments in the United States must maintain servers year round for tallying votes during a matter of hours on election day, and many have a mixed record accomplishing even that task. A CNET article published today suggests that cloud computing provides a better alternative, and I agree.
For starters, I am more confident in cloud providers hosting sensitive election data than I am in a governmental IT department doing so. Data centers are built to be redundant and physically secure, and some are staffed with personnel trained in industry security standards. It would be impractical and cost prohibitive for a state to take those steps.
More importantly, virtualized server images that run on cloud services like those offered by Amazon.com are most likely to be configured correctly; more servers that meet the same rigor can be spun up as demand peaks. There are companies that make a living out of selling certified images for that lock down access in virtualized environments hosted in the cloud.
Independent audits have uncovered security holes when local governments have set up their own servers. That is unacceptably risky.
Cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon make it possible for states to use the exact same databases and servers that they would use if they were tallying the results themselves, so the data remains interoperable with their existing voting systems. Even though the data is not physically controlled by a state when it’s hosted by someone else, it remains the property, of the state as cloud providers do not customarily control customers’ intellectual property.
So what does this all mean? If vote counting goes to the cloud, the state departments responsible for elections are then free to focus their efforts on providing accurate, accessible and reliable voting machines on election day. States can save taxpayers money and allay fears about stolen elections by using cloud computing to provide capacity on demand for tallying votes on election night, and do so with confidence. The time to make the switch is now.