Cloud computing isn’t merely changing the way much of the technology business works. Now it is changing itself, and putting even more computing power in more places.

On Monday, Microsoft, which operates one of the biggest so-called “public clouds,” or large and flexible computing systems available for remote rental, announced several changes to its data storage and processing services that will make them more powerful.

Microsoft also announced a partnership with Dell to sell a kind of “cloud in a box,” or hardware and software that created a mini-version of Microsoft’s cloud, called Azure, inside a company.

The idea is that a company could work with its own version of Azure, then easily move up to the giant version Microsoft has to handle big workloads. Hewlett-Packard may be after something similar with its effort to create a private-public cloud business based on the HP cloud, which uses a kind of open source software.

What all of this means is that cloud computing, which makes it easier to tie more things to computers and more easily manage software, is starting to appear in even more forms and types. Within each corporate proposition, including Google and Amazon, as well as Microsoft, HP and others, there appears to be an increasing trend toward offering more flexibility. Generally it’s done by abstracting what were functions of specialized hardware into more easily altered software.

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The Government Printing Office aims to complete a migration to Microsoft cloud email services by the year end, the agency’s chief information officer said Tuesday.

GPO is the first legislative branch agency to make the move to the cloud. The printing office will use Microsoft 365, which is already in place at numerous executive branch agencies.

Legislative branch agencies — which include GPO, the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress, among others — are not required to comply with executive branch directives, such as the cloud-first policy.

This could be a reason these agencies have been slower to adopt cloud email.

“I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before other agencies in the legislative branch also move to cloud email,” the printing office’s CIO Chuck Riddle told Nextgov. “Obviously, the legislative branch is quite a bit smaller, but we talk about trying to incorporate best practices like this.”

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Boston University announced plans to develop a smart-city cloud platform designed to streamline and strengthen multiple municipal functions. The Smart-city Cloud-based Open Platform and Ecosystem (SCOPE) project aims to use cloud and big data technologies to improve transportation, energy, public safety, asset management and social services in the City of Boston and across Massachusetts.

“Today’s cities are increasingly being challenged – to respond to diverse needs of their citizens, to prepare for major environmental changes, to improve urban quality of life and to foster economic development,” said Azer Bestavros, director of the university’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering and SCOPE’s principal investigator.

“So called ‘smart cities’ are closing these gaps through the use of technology to connect people with resources, to guide changes in collective behavior and to foster innovation and economic growth.”

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Californians will soon be able to text 911 during emergencies. 

A bill recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will allow people to send videos, photographs and messages to 911 dispatchers instead of calling them. 

The California Office of Emergency Services believes being able to text 911 will increase safety for all Californians. States such as Vermont have already implemented text 911. 

Officials say that calling 911 is still preferable to texting, because dispatchers are trained to gain information over the phone that would be difficult to get from text messages, such as background noise. However, there are certain situations where texting would be better than calling. 

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Seven years ago, the state of Delaware started moving computer servers out of closets and from under workers’ desks to create a consolidated data center and a virtual computing climate.

In doing so, Delaware, nicknamed the First State, became the first state to move to cloud computing, in this case storing its data, operating systems and applications on centralized servers and giving agency employees remote access to the servers via the Internet. But this system is about to run its course as the state’s servers reach the end of their useful lives.

Delaware now is about to take another big step into the cloud. It’s looking at relinquishing management of its computing infrastructure and turning it over to an outside company to handle for a monthly fee. It’s a leap to the so-called “public” cloud, where the computing is done by a third party. The First State’s foray into the cloud is one many other states are undertaking, as officials increasingly shed their skepticism and yield to the promise of the cost savings.

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Open data-powered innovation programs are well established in cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco, but state governments have been slower to join the movement. The size and structure of state governments — along with limited direct contact with citizens — has made it harder for them to engage civic hacker communities.

But growing state interest in data analytics and data sharing also is sparking more state-level open data initiatives and civic hackathons. Data-oriented topics were front-and-center at the NASCIO Annual Conference this week in Nashville, and a number of state CIOs are launching open data efforts intended to drive innovation in service delivery and spur economic development.

For instance, Minnesota CIO Carolyn Parnell says she’s expanded her focus on open data and innovation. Speaking on a NASCIO open data panel on Monday, Parnell said her state established an open data portal in 2011, but the information sat largely unused. “Someone had set it up so we would have a site, but it was pretty meaningless,” she said.

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The federal government is known for its risk-adverse nature and tight control of IT assets. But with increasing data needs and constrained budgets, agencies are turning to cloud computing as a solution.

Policies such as Cloud First have moved agencies in the right direction. Cloud First, authored by former federal CIO Vivek Kundra, mandates that agencies consider cloud computing before other options for new IT projects. In an interview with InformationWeek Government earlier this year, Kundra, who is now with Salesforce as executive VP of emerging markets, said the public sector is experiencing a major shift in the IT landscape. “We’ve seen amazing proof points when it comes to cloud computing, like the $600 million contract that Amazon won with the CIA,” he said.

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As local law enforcement agencies continue to pursue smarter policing, one huge potential benefit on the horizon is cloud computing. Three-quarters of the nation’s 14,000 local law enforcement agencies have 25 or fewer sworn officers, and nearly half have fewer than 10 officers. Cloud computing, which can minimize up-front investment and ongoing costs for IT systems and applications, makes sense in this era of fiscal austerity.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police surveyed its members and found that nearly half were either using cloud computing or were considering it. “That ran counter to what we thought was a broad reluctance about the cloud,” said David Roberts, senior program manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Our survey found 16 percent were already using it and 38 percent were planning to use cloud computing within the next two years.”

Like other government agencies, police hope they can save some money and get rid of legacy hardware and software by using the cloud. Email is the most popular cloud application, followed by storage, access to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and crime reporting, according to the survey. But cops also see the cloud helping with disaster recovery and backup, crime analysis and records management. “The cloud opens up sophisticated technology tools and services to smaller agencies that don’t have the funds to purchase an entire application on their own,” said Roberts.

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Cloud computing has been credited with increasing competitiveness through cost reduction, greater flexibility, elasticity and optimal resource utilization. Here are a few situations where cloud computing is used to enhance the ability to achieve business goals.

1. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS)

When it comes to IaaS, using an existing infrastructure on a pay-per-use scheme seems to be an obvious choice for companies saving on the cost of investing to acquire, manage and maintain an IT infrastructure. There are also instances where organizations turn to PaaS for the same reasons while also seeking to increase the speed of development on a ready-to-use platform to deploy applications.

2. Private cloud and hybrid cloud

Among the many incentives for using cloud, there are two situations where organizations are looking into ways to assess some of the applications they intend to deploy into their environment through the use of a cloud (specifically a public cloud). While in the case of test and development it may be limited in time, adopting a hybrid cloud approach allows for testing application workloads, therefore providing the comfort of an environment without the initial investment that might have been rendered useless should the workload testing fail.

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Seven federal agencies have collectively ramped up the number of cloud services and investments in such efforts since 2012, but congressional investigators said the agencies are still only investing a tiny fraction of their IT budgets on such initiatives.

While the Government Accountability Office complimented the progress in a Sept. 25 report, it said the agencies are still overwhelmingly directing their investments to legacy operations, which have yet to be considered for cloud migration.

“This is due in part to the agencies’ practice of not assessing these investments until they are to be replaced or modernized, which is inconsistent with [Office of Management and Budget's] direction,” the report said.

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