Faux cloud wars: A zero-sum game

When a bunch of cloud computing providers concoct a "war game" to help you decide whether to opt for the cloud, guess how it turns out?

Anybody else remember "WarGames" starring Matthew Broderick? 1983? W.O.P.R. the supercomputer that nearly starts WWIII? "He does fit the profile perfectly. He's intelligent, but an under-achiever, alienated from his parents, has few friends. Classic case for recruitment by the Soviets." Man, that was every geek I knew. Speaking of which, they just wrapped up this year's Federal Office Systems Exhibition (FOSE).

In an effort to clarify what cloud computing means to government clients, Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) hosted a "war game" at FOSE 2009 in conjunction with Google and Amazon. Each day during the conference, BAH conducted three rounds of the game, affectionately dubbed "Crapopoly" by the attendees because the board looked like a cross between a craps table and a Monopoly board. Each round had a theme, from defense and intelligence to civil and health care. I sit on the board of directors of a company that regularly attends the conference, but I was unable to attend this year's edition. After talking with some of the folks that were there, I thought it sounded like the only way to win the game was to abstain from playing. Just like thermonuclear war.

[ Government isn't the only entity that could benefit from cloud computing. Higher education could also use a national computing cloud. ]

Gameplay was simple enough. Each team was given a set of chips that represented either money or staff, and then they had 90 minutes to role-play the management of their IT infrastructure in relation to predefined tasks. Leaders would consult with their team to decide whether to use cloud computing resources or traditional infrastructure and then bet either a money or staff chip that they made the right decision. After placing their team's bet, the team leader would draw a card to determine their fate. If they made the correct decision, the team got to collect their earnings.

I wish I'd seen the participation and interaction involved in this game first hand. I'm no Professor Falken, but my first question is how effective an educational tool can this game possibly be when it was written by vendors trying to sell cloud computing services. Was the goal really to educate government buyers and employees on what "cloud computing" is or to herd them toward the cash register with a cart full of cloud services offered by the companies who sponsored the game? Come on. The "right" and "wrong" decision cards were created by people clearly biased on the subject of cloud computing.

Sounds to me like propaganda from the get-go. Don't get me wrong, I'm 100 percent in favor of our government learning the benefits of cloud computing as well as the potential drawbacks. From what I've heard, participants left with just as many questions about cloud computing as they had prior to placing their bets -- more in some cases. Maybe I should design a truly educational game about cloud computing for InfoWorld. Maybe an open source game written by parties with no direct interest in selling cloud computing services might be a skosh more effective. Just a smidge.

If you attended FOSE 2009 and have an opinion on the game (as a player or observer), please leave me a comment. Break it down for me, "WarGames" style.