Australian Defence eyes Google Apps in public cloud pilot

The Australian Department of Defence is running a 24-month pilot of Google Apps as its first major step towards using cloud services.

The Australian Department of Defence has revealed that it is running a limited trial of Google Apps over two years as it looks to step up its use of cloud services.

According to an answer to Questions on Notice from the last set of Senate Estimates hearings in October last year, the department has launched a limited 24-month trial using Google Apps deployed in an offshore public cloud to host the unclassified academic learning environment for the Australian Defence College.

"The pilot is a limited 24-month trial to assess the merit of extending the broader use of cloud within the Defence," the department stated.

Defence said it undertook a risk assessment in using Google Apps, and it is in a controlled private enterprise environment with information managed according to the Australian Privacy Principles.

ZDNet sought additional information on the pilot from Defence; however, the department was unable to provide more detail at the time of writing.

The trial of public cloud services is a big shift for the department. Due to the security requirements within Defence, the agency has been even more cautious in adopting cloud services than most government agencies. CIO Peter Lawrence told ZDNet in late 2013 that there was some scope for the department to use private cloud only.

"I think for some of our test development-type activity, where we might not have any production data, we might be able to manage any security risks. Absolutely I think some cloud-based service models could help us, so we don't have to do all that ourselves, we can be elastic, pay for what we need when we need it," he said.

"I can see a place for a service-type model in some of our production systems."

Last year, the Australian government began pushing government agencies to adopt a cloud-first approach to services. In October, the government revealed that although the Australian government spends AU$6 billion on IT annually, a mere AU$4.7 million has been spent on cloud services by the government since July 2010.

Under the new cloud policy, agencies now "must adopt cloud where it is fit for purpose, provides adequate protection of data, and delivers value for money".

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged government agencies to move away from the "box-hugging mentality" that resists adopting cloud services.

"There has been much more resistance to cloud in government than anywhere else," he said in November.

"That box-hugging resistance to anything that was going to challenge the roles of ICT professionals in agencies, it is a very defensive question of protecting turf."

It is becoming apparent that some agencies are beginning to change the culture towards cloud services. A number of agencies have responded to questions about their cloud adoption, indicating a variety of cloud services being planned or already being used.

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The Department of Education is utilising public cloud services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) through the Shared Services Centre (SSC) using both Elastic Cloud Compute for 96 servers and Amazon Simple Storage Service for 32 terabytes of online storage.

The cost since June 2013 for the service is slightly over AU$200,000.

Similarly, the department said it conducted a risk assessment before choosing to move into AWS public cloud, and the SSC uses a virtual private server.

"The SSC's use of public cloud employs a security construct known as a 'Virtual Private Cloud', which is simply an extension of the departmental infrastructure environments into the AWS datacentre. This means that our existing internal security controls are used to govern access to AWS services and to enforce the department's IT Security Policy on the infrastructure commissioned within the public cloud," the department said.

The Australian Electoral Commission is considering using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Microsoft Azure, while the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation has a number of cloud services including iCloud for "find my iPhone".

The Department of Industry and Science said it began using cloud services in November 2012, and now has six live services and an additional five services under consideration. The cost of the live services per month ranges between AU$81,000 and AU$977,000, according to the department, depending on the consumption of the services.

The ATO said it has used different forms of cloud services since 2007, and listed a range of services it utilises, including recruitment tools, travel management services, website hosting, property management tools, and web chat services.

Despite the government recently launching a whole-of-government CMS built on Drupal, and Google recently blocking 11,000 domains with compromised WordPress sites, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that it had recently purchased a subscription to WordPress as its first step into the cloud.

The department had also recently subscribed to VioCorp's digital asset management services.

In response to a question on notice in December 2014, the Department of Finance said that it was still evaluating tender responses for the establishment of the whole-of-government cloud services panel that is due to be established this month.

Australian government chief technology officer John Sheridan said late last year that the government is considering going to market for a whole-of-government email and desktop service once the panel has been established.

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