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Vision please...

Vision please...

Despite showing promising form in the United States, 'Cloud Computing' failed to make it out of the starting gates of the Australian Federal Government ICT Stakes in 2010.

Despite showing promising form in the United States, “Cloud Computing” failed to make it out of the starting gates of the Australian Federal Government ICT Stakes in 2010. Indeed the event was pretty much a two horse race – with “NBN” capturing the crowd and winning by a comfortable margin from “Gov 2.0”. “ICT Reform Program” seemed to get bogged in a swampy part of the track, entangling “Data Centre Strategy”. “Internet Filter” fell early in the race after colliding with “Election Realities”. Punters are tipping a better run for “Cloud Computing” in 2011.

Cloud Computing’s strong run in the US Government in 2010

The US federal government has enthusiastically embraced cloud computing, since the Obama Administration’s appointment of Vivek Kundra in the role of Federal CIO in 2009 and his launch of the Government’s cloud portal, www.aaps.gov, later that year.

Last year was one of steady growth for the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative. Kundra released a “State of Public Sector Cloud Computing” report in May – revealing progress on datacentre consolidation, the definition of cloud standards and the inclusion of cloud computing within budgeting and procurement processes. The report includes 30 case studies depicting how federal and state government agencies are already using cloud computing.

Three specific initiatives being led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology are noteworthy:

• Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart Adoption of Cloud Computing – initiatives to lead standards development and share information about emerging standards.

• Cloud Computing Use Cases - aimed at defining a set of agreed minimum requirements for interoperability, security and portability.

• Federal Risk and Authorisation Management Program (FedRAMP) – initiatives to specifically address security concerns created by cloud computing. One of the aims is to create a standard set of tests for certifying and accrediting cloud computing vendors for inclusion within apps.gov.

That the US Government is serious about cloud computing was revealed by budget planning instructions issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Kundra states: “OMB, as part of the FY2011 Budget Process, requested all agencies to evaluate cloud computing alternatives as part of their budget submissions for all major IT investments, where relevant. Specifically: By September 2011 – all newly planned or performing major IT investments acquisitions must complete an alternative analysis that includes a cloud computing based alternative as part of their budget submissions.” Investments associated with enhancements and steady-state IT will also require assessment of a cloud alternative in the 2012 and 2013 budget years.

In October the first infrastructure-as-a-service contracts were awarded by the GSA to a panel of 11 vendors which will be included in the apps.gov portal once they have passed security certification.

In December the GSA selected Google Apps in a US$6.7M 5 year deal to replace Lotus Notes as the email and collaboration platform for its 17,000 users. Competing Microsoft and IBM solutions were evaluated prior to selecting Google. Casey Coleman, GSA’s Chief Information Officer, commented in a media release, “Cloud computing has a demonstrated track record of cost savings and efficiencies. With this award, GSA employees will have a modern, robust email and collaboration platform that better supports our mission and our mobile work force, and costs half as much.”

The GSA, it appears, is certainly “walking the talk” of its cloud vision.

A little vision can go a long way

The Australian Federal Government in contrast - has yet to show much overt interest in cloud computing. At first glance, this seems OK – governments have legitimate security and privacy concerns regarding off-shore clouds and the on-shore cloud sector is still emerging. When you step back, however, this situation reveals a lack of strategic thinking and vision compared to the “can do”, “work the problem”, approach of the US Government.

There are two reasons why Australia needs to embrace cloud computing in 2011. Firstly, the success of one of the Government’s top priority policy initiatives, the NBN, relies on stimulating demand for cloud computing (among other ICT intensive applications) in the broader economy. The Government undermines the case for the NBN if its own agencies are unenthusiastic and fearful of cloud computing.

Secondly, Government’s demand can and should be used strategically to stimulate the development of on-shore cloud computing services in this country. We need a vision for the future state of both government ICT (federal, state and local) and Australia’s ICT industry – these are inextricably linked. The way government shapes its requirements stimulates the way the market responds and the export capabilities developed by Australian ICT firms.

Cloud computing is all about the creation of modern internet-age service platforms – efficient but scalable, standardised but flexible, shared but secure. These are the platforms that will leverage the NBN’s infrastructure to build Australia’s digital economy and to make both its government and its businesses more efficient.

Let’s see some vision here people!

Dr Steve Hodgkinson leads Ovum’s public sector advisory services.

To comment on this article, please email the editor.

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