The New Zealand government has been very brave with its world-beating comprehensive shift to cloud-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
No other nation has decided to provide IaaS to its agencies on such a wide and comprehensive scale.
Allowing government agencies to buy computing infrastructure "on demand" promises savings of NZ$50 million to NZ$250 million over ten years, out of an annual NZ$2 billion ICT spend, NZ$400 million of which is spent on infrastructure.
Such a move has its risks, but the New Zealand government has been working on this for several years, ever since a 2008 survey found that government ICT spending was fragmented and duplicated.
In current tough times every penny counts, and it is such initiatives that many hoped would come from the shared cross-government approach.
Peter Mersi, acting head of Department of Internal Affairs, said that the announcement that Revera and Datacom would be providing IaaS to the government was the first of a series of similar announcements, planned as part of a reform of government procurement.
Revera and Datacom announced plans for a NZ$40 million datacentre in Wellington and a $30 million datacentre in Hamilton, respectively. Datacom said that it would be offering cloud-based services to government within 90 days.
Revera general manager Robin Cockayne says his business operates New Zealand's largest IaaS platform, and that such a diverse spread reduces risk (especially necessary given earthquakes), which helped his business to win its share of the government tender.
Yet, while all sides trumpeted the deal, risks remain. The IaaS market is still evolving, with Gartner noting that it is in its adoption phase, with no vendor offering everything.
Furthermore, cloud services also risk failure, as was shown by the two-day outage at Amazon recently. And while outsourcing virtually everything might seem simple, you will need to keep plenty of your own expertise; in-house staff need to work with the providers to ensure that they do not lose knowledge and control of their systems, or let the outsourcers wriggle out of responsibility for any failures.
Additionally, Canadian Wilf Dorfmann of Axxiton Consulting, who visited New Zealand recently at the time when the government made an announcement about its decision to shift to IaaS, has questioned whether the move will save money as claimed. He believes that such rental-type payments can end up costing more than owning it outright yourself.
He also fears the impact of failure when companies use a single cloud-based provider, but with Datacom and Revera both having redundant datacentres in New Zealand, I would hope that we have no fears there.
Concluding that the IaaS shift was "madness", Dorfmann hoped New Zealand would simply try it out in a couple of departments first.
Thankfully, that seems to be the intention, although, over time, IaaS is expected to become the modus operandi for all of government.
The government has moved to try to mitigate these risks. Both major multi-national Datacom and smaller, but nimble, Kiwi company Revera, are long established in the game, and Revera has evolved from dealing simply with storage to becoming a diverse provider. However, whether their considerations will be enough in the long run, only time will tell.