All central government departments in the UK will now have to prioritise cloud services when buying IT.
The Cloud First policy is designed to help UK government fulfil its pledge that half of new IT spending will be on public cloud services by 2015. The government wants to halve the cost of IT provision by replacing bespoke IT systems with off-the-shelf cloud services, particularly for generic services like email.
Under the policy, first mentioned in 2011, Whitehall departments embarking on IT projects will need to demonstrate they have considered first a public cloud service, and then a private cloud service, before settling on any other form of IT service delivery.
The IT Reform Group, a Cabinet Office body, will check whether cloud services have been given proper consideration before approving budgets for IT projects. The checks will be applied to IT projects with a total cost of ownership greater than £5m.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the policy should increase uptake of services through the G-Cloud, the procurement framework that provides a pool of cloud services for public sector bodies to choose from.
The latest version of the G-Cloud framework, G-Cloud III offers more than 5,000 IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and other offerings from 708 suppliers, 83 percent of which are SMEs.
These services are generally purchased through the CloudStore, an online catalogue, and are targeted at a wide range of public sector bodies, including local and central government, the NHS and police forces.
Uptake of cloud services in government is rising, with CloudStore sales hitting an all-time high in March this year and bringing the total spend on G-Cloud services to £18.2m.
However these sales represent a fraction of the overall spend on IT by UK government each year, thought to be in the region of £18bn.
G-Cloud programme director Denise McDonagh acknowledged the government is still a long way from a significant transition to cloud services, but said its Cloud First policy will spur on adoption.
"This is still small relative to overall government IT spend, and the transition to widespread purchasing of IT services as a commodity won't happen overnight. The adoption of a Cloud First policy will give added impetus for Whitehall and the wider public sector to move in this direction," she said in a statement.