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The Economics of Federal Cloud Computing Analyzed 85

Posted by kdawson
from the clouds'-illusions-i-recall dept.
jg21 writes "With the federal government about to spend $20B on IT infrastructure, this highly analytical article by two Booz Allen Hamilton associates makes it clear that cloud computing has now received full executive backing and offers clear opportunities for agencies to significantly reduce their growing expenditures for data centers and IT hardware. From the article: 'A few agencies are already moving quickly to explore cloud computing solutions and are even redirecting existing funds to begin implementations... Agencies should identify the aspects of their current IT workload that can be transitioned to the cloud in the near term to yield "early wins" to help build momentum and support for the migration to cloud computing.'"
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The Economics of Federal Cloud Computing Analyzed

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  • by Cryacin (657549) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:15AM (#29790335)
    These government types always have their heads in the clouds...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
      Is this funny? Or do people just chime in with whatever enters their head but is actually not funny? Serious question.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by some_guy_88 (1306769)

        You're new here arn't you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cjfs (1253208)

        Is this funny? Or do people just chime in with whatever enters their head but is actually not funny? Serious question.

        Well you can't just say "first post" anymore, you'd get modded down instantly. So you have to think of something in the .7 seconds before you lost the first post spot. So yeah, probably is the first thing that came to mind.

        The other possibility is that it's a setup for a top level reply. Perhaps something along the lines of a These government types always have their heads up their clouds with a FTFY-type note. With that kind of visibility a +5 funny is easy to get.

        Now you reply and collect the "holy over-an

    • These government types always have their heads in the clouds...

      ....I thought that was CLOD computing. My Bad.

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      I find they mostly have their heads in a much darker place ....

  • by peipas (809350) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:26AM (#29790417)

    $20B + system built by Microsoft's new 'Danger' arm + White House IT administration = dream government cloud!

    All your base are most certainly permanently lost!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      All your base are most certainly permanently lost!

      If it's the NSA losing the data than it's a feature for the public; illegal domestic spying considered.

      • by cjfs (1253208)

        If it's the NSA losing the data than it's a feature for the public; illegal domestic spying considered.

        Don't worry, I'm sure they'll have that covered...

        However, there are currently no security standards for cloud computing, and until such standards have been developed, and used effectively to measure provider services and enforce accountability, any failures will fall on the agency's in-house IT organization

    • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday October 19, 2009 @01:11AM (#29790679) Journal

      Remember Carnivore? The FBI email filter that sniffed network traffic and kept copies of emails sent to a directed user? It fell afoul of privacy groups and was eventually withdrawn as it was effectively a form of warrantless wiretapping.

      I wish I could find the source - but I remember it as C/Net or something like that. Anyway, the problem behind it's withdrawal wasn't that it was ineffective, (it was) nor was it that it picked up emails to people other than the intended recipient. (It didn't) The problem was that the carnivore system itself was insecure.

      So the FBI would deploy this thing, essentially packet-sniffing an ISP's network, and then would be hacked by the Chinese or the Ruskies and all the information gathered by the FBI intelligence was then disclosed to the foreign powers. It was (apparently) an open Joke within the spy community.

      Why does this somehow come to mind when I think of "Cloud computing" for the gubbmint? Because as bad as it is for the gubbmint getting a system to be secured, doing so with an outside 3rd party takes the problem to a whole new magnitude.

      • by zero0ne (1309517)

        Not that I think you are wrong with your theory here, but maybe (just maybe) the people in charge of operating, running and deploying their cloud are the best of the best?

        The cloud simply allows them to group the best of the best together to benefit the community at large.

        Instead of the FBI hiring poor programmers, you now have a central group responsible for implementing security among other things.

        Theoretically, it's sound... Implementation is another issue altogether, however.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GrpA (691294)

          Theoretically, the companies that win these contracts will have it in their best interests not to provide the best services, but whatever cheap services they can while maximizing profits.

          That's usually what happens in practice too.

          GrpA

        • by foobsr (693224)
          the best of the best

          Pff, with selection rules set by politicians and CEOs.

          CC.
  • Economies of Scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:27AM (#29790425)

    Cloud computing provides lower costs due to attaining economies of scale. The federal government certainly has scale to attain any efficiencies that a cloud operator might use to reduce the cost. It is scary to think the government will hand over data and processing to the cloud instead of providing a federally managed private cloud on a secure private network. This reeks of lobbying and special interests. Follow the money.

    • by rhsanborn (773855) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:03AM (#29792299)
      Which is how it should work. The government working on commercial clouds sounds completely unreasonable. There is a place for a large cloud where different agencies can aggregate their resources, rather than each agency having their own IT setup and staff.
      • by slim (1652) <john@hartnup3.14.net minus pi> on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:20AM (#29792407) Homepage

        I wasn't going to watch 24 again, but it might be worth watching another series to see whether they get a cloud reference in.

        "Open me a socket into the FBI cloud NOW!"

      • I should be able to log on to the irs.gov site in February and type in my social security number and the site should tell me how much money I made last year and than ask me several question and than tell me how much I owe or how much return I can expect. It should take 10 minutes at the most. I file the same way every year so it should not be much of a problem for the irs to figure out. I would rather pay the government $60 extra a year so it could go to a better cause than some CEO's large compensation.
        • I would rather pay the government extra so it could go to a better cause

          And, would that be new SUVs for the hood rats, granite countertops on some subprime borrower's million-dollar home, or killing more brown people?

    • by slim (1652) <john@hartnup3.14.net minus pi> on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:06AM (#29792321) Homepage

      It is scary to think the government will hand over data and processing to the cloud instead of providing a federally managed private cloud on a secure private network. This reeks of lobbying and special interests.

      The only thing it reeks of, is what the US and UK governments have favoured for the last 20 years or more -- discourage public projects, encourage private sector projects. Don't let the government build a hospital when you can enter into a "Public Private Partnership" instead.

      There's plenty of precedence for trusting private companies with government data.

      I do agree that a state-owned private cloud would make the most sense - but alas that's not how the US and UK governments have tended to go for a long time.

    • What kind of "economy of scale" is there to throwing out working systems and replacing them?

      Oh right... this is management types we are talking about...
  • Not so sure (Score:3, Funny)

    by Amanitin (1603983) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:45AM (#29790499)

    Moving onto clouds always gives me the sense of losing control.
    With government agencies I am pretty sure my tax payment records will be the first they loose, my traffic offense records the last.

  • The concept of cloud computing is utilizing resources that are not located within one's general geographical area or the resources, at minimum, aren't owned by you, is that correct? If this is the case, how then would companies and people in general be persuaded to buy the hardware to run all of these resources? Or maybe what I'm asking is who is willing to pay for all of the cloud support? Does Microsoft say, for example, that the new Office 2012 is entirely cloud-based; no need for apps on your local m
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slim (1652)

      In the case of software-as-a-service (just one example of cloud computing), it's pretty much as you describe.

      Does Microsoft say, for example, that the new Office 2012 is entirely cloud-based; no need for apps on your local machine, but they own the server farms to host all of the thousands of Office cloud apps that people are running?

      Just substitute Google for Microsoft, and Google Apps for Office 2012, and you've got an exact description of how Google Apps works.

  • So when will the IRS move my data into the "cloud"?

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:58AM (#29790587) Homepage Journal
    Something that isn't often mentioned when discussing cloud computing is a general problem with who has control over your data, where it resides, and what prevents others from accessing it. When you move to the cloud you need to be able to trust the service provider completely. This might not be a problem for unimportant things, but the government has privacy and secrecy obligations that it would not be able to fulfill by handing it sll over to a third party.
    • by pdbaby (609052) on Monday October 19, 2009 @03:35AM (#29791239)

      I work on "cloud computing things" and I can tell you that this is, most certainly, discussed at great length... especially with government-level stuff: these are the sorts of issues that are most important.

      Private clouds provide a lot of the benefits of centrally managed infrastructure without the drawbacks of having a single, far-away department managing stuff at the operating system level - it can be a major win for large organisations like governments.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Rogerborg (306625)

        And I'm sure you deal with those issues by assuring them that you've got top men working on it. Top. Men.

      • by teknopurge (199509) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:14AM (#29793687) Homepage
        Private clouds? With a private cloud you're two steps away from a Mainframe, where with a mainframe you already have all the isolation, security and time sharing issues solved. With a private cloud, you still have years of break/fix patching to get things working similar to existing technology architectures.(security, delegation, etc.) Where is the value ad? (Serious, no troll)
    • by Danathar (267989)

      Yes, because over the last 40 years or so NEVER has the government outsourced data center operations to 3rd party facilities run by.....like EDS, IBM, Perot Systems, Booze-Allen, SAIC...

      And

      Because currently contractors are completly trustworthy inside governent data centers and would never and could never pull a hard drive and walk out the door..

      -----
      And if you did not get the above joke, just realize that "cloud" vendors are no different than any other contractor that has run fed data centers and servers i

    • Forget about the third party. I have only time enough for a quick Google, so I apologize for the somewhat biased link, but this there are complications for cloud stuff and keeping the branches of government separate.

      Arpaio and state Supreme Court [prisonplanet.com]

    • by mgblst (80109)

      You are so ignorant, it is beyond belief. You clearly have never actually looked into cloud computing seriously.

      This is a huge issue. There are times when data needs to be restricted from running in certain countries due to privacy rules (UK Medical records must remain in the UK, so can't be sent anywhere else).

      There are huge issues about encryption, anonymising data, and ensuring that data is kept safe.

      A great deal of though has gone into this issue, so fuck you.

  • Not Suprising (Score:3, Interesting)

    by benjamindees (441808) on Monday October 19, 2009 @01:00AM (#29790599) Homepage

    Booz Allen Hamilton is the consulting wing of the military-industrial-complex. Look at their members: Bushes, CIA/NSA directors, etc. This is the wing of the Republican party whose only problem with the size and scope of government is that it still has some semblance of democratic accountability, rather than having been farmed out to some shadow corporate control. The agenda is to centralize, nationalize, and privatize key US assets wherever possible. Information technology is becoming a crucial means of political control in the digital age. And clouds represent the perfect way to outsource and obfuscate that control, outside the reach of pesky freedom of information laws, of course losing any disparaging information in the process.

    As an anecdote: Google opened a new datacenter near here recently. It has twice as many armed guards as IT staff. I would hate to be the one to have to serve a warrant on that place. Do you think that might be a convenient place to store your medical records, government or corporate e-mails, mortgage records for well-connected politicians, illegal spying programs, etc? What happens when the information you're looking for can't be tied to any one physical machine, or geographic location even?

  • I think its best if each agency had its own servers that employees could access remotely. Data shouldn't be copied onto laptops which can then be lost. We won't have to worry about losing the data. The 3rd parties will probably sell it and be able to store it with other internal data like our phone records. I don't want the private sector having access to this any more than a person with a stolen laptop with social security numbers on it.
  • by Web Goddess (133348) on Monday October 19, 2009 @01:38AM (#29790817)

    What is cloud computing? Knowledgeable people interviewed at Web 2.0 Expo last year describe in hilarious terms their understanding of the phrase, making only one thing clear: clouds are nebulous.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PNuQHUiV3Q [youtube.com]

    --Wendy

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gringer (252588)

      RMS has recently also described cloud computing as nebulous (I think it's the second question, about 40s in):
      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Stallman_Talk_2009-10-09_part5.ogv [wikimedia.org]

      • by terbo (307578)

        "That term is so vague, or shall we say nebulous, that it can't be used for meaningful statements."
        "Don't pay attention to who has your data, or who controls all of the computing you do, just ignore it."

        Thanks a lot for the video and link/post. I wonder why googling 'a free digital society'
        does not find it. Not even the FSF page has much info on the talk.

        • by gringer (252588)

          Thanks a lot for the video and link/post. I wonder why googling 'a free digital society'
          does not find it. Not even the FSF page has much info on the talk.

          YW. Both the video and the talk are new; the video was uploaded 10 days ago, and I think this talk is one of his newer ones (1-2 years old, from what I recall). Thanks to your mention in /., it'll probably show up soon enough.

        • by gringer (252588)

          Also further explained at about 10:20 in [part2]

          He was talking about Software as a Service (SAAS) there, which is a more specific term.

          His comments regarding "cloud computing" remind me of what he says about "intellectual property", so I wonder if he would be similarly frustrated with both terms (i.e. cloud computing is to SAAS as intellectual property is to patent law).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There needs to be real answers to real questions. How is cloud computing different from the fat servers and thin clients talked about in the old days? Will google allow self-provisioning of their apps to private clouds? Other company's and their web apps? Most cloud enthusiasts insist data is safe and secure on the internet, but there are many military / government orgs that must use detached, self provisioned, private clouds. Probably most major corporations will demand self-provisioned applications and da

  • The little red light on my scam-o-meter is blinking furiously.
  • Security (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plopez (54068) on Monday October 19, 2009 @04:58AM (#29791601) Journal

    Ummm... yeah.

    So gov't worker A in an agency which name the worker cannot disclose has confidential files. He also has access to a cloud application for publishing, sharing purposes.

    So, how do we safe guard uploading the sensitive document, accidentally of course, to a cloud application which is not locked down or has poor security?

    This has already happened with regular application, but if the information is distributed across many servers possibly many organizations how do you plug the leak?

    Previously there was only a single point of failure, now there is an unknown number of locations for the information leak.

    You may as well post the document link on slashdot.

  • by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Monday October 19, 2009 @05:10AM (#29791643)

    Cloud computing offers nothing. And by nothing I mean nothing new. Nor does it fix anything. The internet already works.

    There, I said it.

    For 99% of us, a web server does everything we need it to. Redundancy and fault tolerance are already very easy to buy in other forms that are perfectly reliable and non-invasive (RAID, adding servers for specific services, buying better hardware etc). These problems were solved long ago.

    Yes, for the rare corporation that requires huge server clusters, cloudifying their infrastructure is the right direction to go. But that and buying a cloud are two completely different stories. If your server count is already that high, then you most likely already have the budget and the people to create your own cloud optimized for your specific needs, that works only for you.

    Just like businesses love dedicated servers even when a shared server would do fine, businesses also love dedicated clouds.

    Cloud providers need to think again about what and to whom they are selling. I see a market for super cheap hosting for the masses by selling competitive hosting packages by leveraging the cost efficiency and performance benefits of a cloud. I also see a market for dedicated custom cloud solutions for the high end market. However, both of these markets are extremely saturated, and if you are not selling anything new, you are primarily competing by price alone. Any such market is a lot of hard work for not so much money.

    So good luck! PS. I am not buying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by davide marney (231845) *

      I didn't find this to be true for me. When I moved my humble little web application from a dedicated host to a cloud platform (Amazon), I saved myself 50%. A dedicated server or hard drive is rented in bulk, so you wind up paying for a lot of unused capacity while you wait for your needs to catch up to your investment. Amazon does charge a preimium price, but there's zero fat. YMMV, but the upshot for me was that Amazon was in fact cheaper. The fact that I also get all the virtualization-on-demand toy

      • Is that the one - http://www.netmedia.org/ [netmedia.org] - in your profile?

        Forbidden
        You don't have permission to access / on this server.

        Very little. Very humble. It has a certain minimalist charm, I'll give you that.

      • I am not sure we are in much disagreement here. I would say your case would fall under:

        ...a market for super cheap hosting for the masses by selling competitive hosting packages by leveraging the cost efficiency and performance benefits of a cloud.

        Such cases definitely exist, and it is great for those who feel they have achieved maximum value for their money. Still, I suspect there aren't enough of you. Zero market disruption.

    • by slim (1652) <john@hartnup3.14.net minus pi> on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:58AM (#29792265) Homepage

      Cloud computing offers nothing. And by nothing I mean nothing new.

      Of course not. Amazon and Google have been using it for over a decade with great success.

      It's nice, though, that the rest of us can now join in cheaply and easily.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rogerborg (306625)

        Super! Where do I sign up with the 3rd parties that have been providing cloud services to Amazon and Google for over a decade?

        Perhaps we need to define our terms first.

        • by slim (1652)

          I appreciate that's something to be considered - but people buy services from third parties all the time.

          I strongly suspect that, at least more recently, Google and Amazon would be structured internally such that different units are responsible for providing the cloud platform, and for providing applications.

          I guess it would be fairly straightforward for Amazon to split itself into a bookshop company and a cloud company, with one being a customer of the other.

          • by Rogerborg (306625)

            Providing cloud services != "using it" though. I doubt that Amazon and Google have been "using" cloud services - in the sense of resources that are shared with external customers - for "over a decade". Try just over 3 years [typepad.com].

            See, what I'm getting at is the vaguery surrounding what "cloud computing" actually is. Who's providing it, who's using it, and who's just scamming money from jumping on the bandwagon and consulting their way to an early retirement by layering a new lexicon on top of Software As A

            • by slim (1652)

              cloud services - in the sense of resources that are shared with external customers

              As you stated a couple of levels up, we haven't agreed terms.

              what I'm getting at is the vaguery surrounding what "cloud computing" actually is

              I see what you mean.

              To me, cloud computing means massively parallel deployments, ideally running applications optimised for that environment. So Google Search is a cloud application, and always has been. Amazon's catalogue is a cloud application, since whatever time they realised that traditional web hosting couldn't scale to their needs.

              And because they were smart, they built themselves cloud platforms that were generally useful; used them themse

      • Amazon and Google have been using it for over a decade with great success.

        These are straight arrow examples of the dedicated clouds I was referring to. Make no mistake, amazon and google are not offering dedicated cloud solutions last I checked. They are offering to share their clouds, and neither of these companies would even contemplate paying someone else for a shared cloud service to sustain their entire business.

        Facebook, mySpace, and I suspect even Twitter (more recently after all their mishaps) have all moved on to virtualizing their server farms to maximize redundancy and

        • by slim (1652)

          neither of these companies would even contemplate paying someone else for a shared cloud service to sustain their entire business.

          I think, in a hypothetical world where they didn't already have their own huge clouds for historical reasons, they might. Not for their *entire* business, but for the parts that are amenable to it.

          Google, less likely. But for Amazon it seems realistic to me.

          Hypothetically, imagine there were no online bookseller in 2009, but someone was selling cloud storage along the lines of S3. Someone like Jeff Bezos has the bright idea of selling books online. Part of that is to maintain a huge database of catalogue in

          • by slim (1652)

            I should add...

            Again hypothetically, if some government agency were to decide Amazon was too big and had to be broken up, I would imagine they'd be very keen to do it by splitting into Amazon Retail and Amazon Cloud Services, with Retail buying storage, hosting etc. from Cloud Services.

            What you'd probably then see -- since there'd be smart people in Retail -- would be Retail's developers weakening the coupling between their code and Cloud Services' interfaces, so they they could dynamically move between ser

    • by Danathar (267989)

      The point is, if your buisness is not IT then why are your spending large sums of money doing it yourself?

      In the early part of the 20th century many businesses ran their own Electric power stations. Then they got rid of them and got power from the grid. Why? Because for 99% of them Electricity is not their core buisness.

      For companies outside of the IT industry IT is not THEIR buisness either.

      • It could easily be cheaper and more efficient to in-house something that is not your "business". Go ahead and take electricity for example. The cheapest way for many businesses to get electricity is not to purchase it from the electric company. The most efficient office buildings and universities co-generate using natural gas engines that provide heating, cooling, and electricity all cheaper and more efficiently than the electric company does. Larger industries do the same thing, only in large industria

      • by dekemoose (699264)
        Plenty of companies do things that aren't part of their core business, HR, Finance, Facilities Management, etc. All of these are available to be outsourced to other parties and many companies have outsourced all or parts of these to other entities with varying degrees of success. However, each of these can also be critical to your business and if you do them particularly well can provide you with an advantage over others in your industry. Electricity is a commodity and there is essentially no value to be f
        • by slim (1652)

          Electricity is a commodity and there is essentially no value to be found for your average company in generating electricity. If you treat all of your supporting functions as commodities then it probably is best to outsource them as someone else can do it just as poorly as you for less money.

          Exactly, and the core concept of cloud computing is that [insert IT function] becomes a commodity. For example, storage is a commodity. Web hosting is a commodity.

          A few years ago, the big companies pushed essentially the same concept, but their buzzword was "grid computing".

          What's currently breaking this model is that interfaces aren't consistent. One can't switch from Amazon S3 to some other storage service as easily as one switches electricity suppliers. (Although there are compatibility layers out there)

    • From a technology perspective, you are correct. The only justification for cloud computing is economic and that makes sense only if your web and db resource usage fluctuates wildly and unpredictably [toolbox.com].
      • by mbone (558574)

        "The only justification for cloud computing is economic and that makes sense only if your web and db resource usage fluctuates wildly and unpredictably."

        I have to wonder about one aspect of this - how the cloud will behave when everyone's resource usage spikes at the same time ? I remember how, during 9/11, the CDN's got through it OK, but many of the news sites with CDN support didn't do so well, as network congestion blocked updates from getting to the CDNs. (A CDN like Akamai, of course, was doing cloud

  • Server Utilization (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:50AM (#29792673)

    Having read through this article server utilization is the most important factor driving better economics for the cloud :

    "Our analysis assumes an average utilization rate of 12 percent of available CPU capacity in the SQ environment and 60 percent in the virtualized cloud scenarios."

    (SQ means status quo, i.e., non-cloud.) This factor of 5 improvement in average utilization drives the overall cost savings and they are assuming a cloud overhead of about 45%. (I.e., if you look that their numbers, they assume that cloud CPU cycles cost 45% more than local cycles, but the efficiency is 5 times higher, for a overall cost reduction of a factor of 3.4 in the "public" cloud case, which has the largest savings.)

    A factor of 5 in server utilization is huge; the question is, is it realistic ? Note that 60% usage corresponds to 100% usage for 14 hours per day, 7 days a week, or 20 hours of full usage for 5 days per week, and so would be quite high for a government web site. If government web servers dominate the cloud computing, the savings are likely not to be as large as this study supposes, because no amount of aggregation of government web site servers will get you much traffic in the middle of the night.

    If you think about it, to be economically effective cloud computing (in the big picture) has to be about saving money by increasing average server utilization (averaged over all users). Cloud servers are not free, and require resources to service and maintain, and clouds have overhead. If some service is barely loading a single server, sure, I can see it being cheaper in the cloud. If servers are maxxed out almost all of the time, I bet that the cloud won't save much money. If the aggregate use is highly time variable, the cloud will not save as much money as a simple calculation would indicate, as the cloud will have servers sitting idle during off hours. For this particular article, its hard to say more as they don't reveal their actual data.

    • If you think about it, to be economically effective cloud computing (in the big picture) has to be about saving money by increasing average server utilization (averaged over all users).

      In a perfect world, perhaps. In this one, all they have to do is offer a new ability to monopolize data processing, and the market will respond. Failing that, they can simply sell their services to government, which has already monopolized money-printing and has no problem using force to extract resources from others to pay it's contractors.

    • by slim (1652)

      A factor of 5 in [CPU] utilization is huge; the question is, is it realistic ? [...] no amount of aggregation of government web site servers will get you much traffic in the middle of the night.

      With the right virtualisation tools and parallel algorithms, you're not limited to serving web pages or doing stuff that requires people to be awake. Batch processing needn't be dead.

      Those CPUs could be indexing, running academic simulations, processing large datasets (images, videos, SETI, folding@home etc.). In fact the only reason not to have the CPUs at 100% all the time, is energy efficiency.

      Having all those processors in a cloud makes them much more accessible for such purposes.

      I bet Google's processo

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