Almost a year ago, Whitehall promised to buy IT 'cloud first'. Has anything changed?

The G-Cloud programme has not yet begun a push to get public agencies to give pride of place to cloud computing, even though the British government committed to the strategy 10 months ago.

The UK government has still not implemented a key part of its cloud-computing strategy, nearly a year after it published its plans.

In its Cloud Computing Strategy (PDF) — published in October last year — the government said it was "committed to the adoption of cloud computing", which it said can "transform the public-sector ICT estate into one that is agile, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable".

Houses of Parliament
A key part of the government's cloud strategy - the 'cloud-first' policy - is still waiting for launch.

A key element of that strategy is the adoption of a 'cloud-first' policy — similar to the one pioneered in the US — where government agencies are required to consider cloud-based approaches where relevant. However, this has still not yet taken place.

"The vision expressed in the Government Cloud Strategy has not been dropped," a Cabinet Office spokesman said, but would not say when 'cloud first' will be implemented.

"We have always said the move to commoditised ICT services requires a culture shift for the public sector," he added. "The adoption of a 'cloud-first' policy may be an element of that shift, but overall the vision has not changed, and we are working closely with the buying community to help them adapt to commodity-based ICT purchasing."

The Cabinet Office pointed to its work so far on cloud computing , including the creation of the  Cloud Store  for cloud-based procurement, and said it remained on target to have 50 percent of central government departments' new ICT spending on public cloud-computing services by December 2015.

Cloud vision

The Cloud Computing Strategy published in October states that "the vision is for government to robustly adopt a 'public cloud solution first' policy, though this will not be possible in every case".

"For government and its related public bodies to realise the benefit of cloud commodity services, a greater level of understanding and awareness of the services and how to exploit, procure and operate them must be embedded across the IA, Information Management and ICT communities," the document states.

"This will be embodied by the 'Cloud First' initiative (as pioneered in the US government Cloud Strategy) which will not only provide an introduction and education to cloud ICT services, but also support and guidance for purchasing and operating cloud based commodity services."

US model

In the US, the Cloud First policy was launched in December 2010 with the aim of accelerating the pace at which the government "realises the value of cloud computing". It required government agencies to evaluate "safe, secure cloud computing" options before making any new investments.

According to the guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House, as part of the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, agencies should seek to "optimise the use of cloud technologies in their IT portfolios".

This means agencies are required to choose cloud options "whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists". In addition, agencies are also told to "continually evaluate" cloud-computing solutions across their IT portfolios, and the OMB has recently updated its guidance so that agencies have to provide more detail about their cloud evaluations plan.

Denise McDonagh , director of the Cabinet Office's G-Cloud programme, hit back at critics in August, pointing out that a million pounds of cloud-computing purchases have been made through Cloud Store since February — with 75 percent of the spending going to small businesses.

"As I have always said, this is only the beginning of the journey. Our approach to propagation will help and guide us all on our way, but we'd appreciate it if people weren't trying to trip us up just as we're getting into our stride," she said in a blog post.