Citizen gateway runs on Amazon

Citizen gateway runs on Amazon

Summary: Can it be that the UK government actually gets the cloud? Its trial runs on Amazon and is aiming for savings of 80 to 90 percent.


One notable nugget buried deep inside Alex Howard's O'Reilly Radar write-up of the UK's new online government platform is that it runs on Amazon EC2. Not hosted on some private government cloud but on the same public AWS servers that everyone else has access to. That's a vote of confidence in the robustness of public cloud platforms that deserves attention. UK citizens will use to do things like find out how to pay local taxes or report a lost passport, ultimately replacing the current Directgov website as well as adding extra services (also see FT Tech Hub coverage).

That's not the kind of activity you would want anyone snooping on, so security will have to be strong. Data protection will have to meet EU requirements too. It's good to see the UK government putting its trust in a cloud platform to meet these compliance needs (although to be honest, the performance bar has been set pretty low considering its history with losing citizen data even in the offline world).

The platform underlying is full of cloud goodness. The EC2-hosted instances run Ubuntu Linux and the infrastructure automation is coded using Puppet. The code itself, although written in-house, has been released as open source and can be downloaded from GitHub. It's mostly in Ruby, with MongoDB and MySQL providing the database components. Files are hosted on S3, email messaging runs on Amazon SES and Gmail, the DNS is hosted by Even the website fonts are sourced from online service

The messaging around this beta launch of the service suggests the UK government actually 'gets' the cloud. Francis Maude, government minister for the Cabinet Office, said in a statement that "IT needs to be commissioned or rented, rather than procured in huge, expensive contracts of long duration." He's also said that, "It's not about cutting 10 or 20% from the cost but how to do it for 10 or 20% of the total cost." With the UK's record of delivering public sector IT projects that underperform for 10 to 20 times the original estimates, that's quite a breathtaking target, but fully in line with what ought to be possible with cloud.

Topics: Amazon, Government, Government US

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • RE: Citizen gateway runs on Amazon

    You make it sound like it was the politicians that did this. Or as if the government doesn't have it's own IT department.
    • RE: Citizen gateway runs on Amazon

      @Aerowind That's a bit them-and-us isn't it? The politican is the spokesman for the strategy. The execution is down to a specific team led by management who defined the strategy. Was that a business strategy or an IT strategy? Hopefully it was both at the same time.
  • RE: Citizen gateway runs on Amazon

    I'm kinda worried about how this works with Amazon being a US corp and thus the data being vulnerable to Patriot Act seizures...

    With no-disclosure warrants, Amazon wouldn't need to inform (and by law couldn't) even though this would break EU protection laws...
  • Are you going to cover IBM's new plans?

    I hear they want to sack thousands of workers and do all their development using piece work programmers in the cloud.