Australian government unveils national cloud strategy

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today released a national cloud strategy that will, among other things, require government agencies to begin shifting their websites into the public cloud.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian government has set out new rules for government agencies to consider cloud first in procurement, and to begin moving websites into the public cloud as part of the new National Strategy for Cloud Computing released today.

"Cloud computing has reached its tipping point. It is no longer a trend, but an absolute business requirement. By freeing business from infrastructure limitations and associated capital expenses, cloud services are fuelling innovation and driving productivity," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told the CeBIT conference today.

Conroy said that the 36-page policy document (PDF) was developed by the government in conjunction with industry, commonwealth and state government agencies, the research sector, consumer advocacy, privacy groups, and the National Standing Committee on Cloud Computing. It was formulated at the request of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in October last year.

It is made up of three main points: Maximising the value of cloud computing in government; promoting cloud services to small business, not for profits, and consumers; and supporting the cloud sector.

The Australian government spent AU$5.97 billion on IT in 2011-2012, and Conroy said that a key focus of the policy will see Australian government agencies be required to consider public cloud services for new procurements. Government agencies will also need to transition public-facing websites to public cloud services when those sites are due for a refresh, provided the public cloud service is the best value for money.

The government will also need to develop a business case by the end of this year to look at the benefits and drawbacks of having a whole-of-government centralised approach to the provision of cloud services for government, and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) will work with Conroy's department to establish information sharing initiatives to improve communication between government agencies.

Much of the work will be led by AGIMO, which today launched its Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy 2.0 (PDF) that underpins the government's National Cloud Computing Strategy.

While other governments such as the UK have gone down the path of having a "cloud first" policy for procurement, the Australian government has still shied away from cloud first. Speaking to ZDNet at CeBIT, Australian government chief information officer Glenn Archer said this was something that AGIMO wrestled with in developing the policy.

"We debated that term internally. Our sense is that this shift is timed right for the maturity of cloud offerings in Australia and the degree to which we are comfortable around the experience we had to date and that we see occurring in the enterprise and corporate market place," he said.

"We see the opportunity for cloud. We think it's got enormous potential to give us not just savings but the kind of agility that will be really valuable for agencies."

To promote cloud services, the government will work with industry to get more information into the public domain from the government tailored to specific industries on how they can use cloud services.

To assist the cloud industry, the government's main focus will be through Austrade to promote Australia as a trusted harbour for data storage and processing.

"Australia must be part of the global conversation to ensure our interests are protected," Conroy said.

Conroy said that there was not a need for the government to intervene and seek to regulate the cloud industry.

"The government does not see the need for industry specific regulation of the cloud services sector. The provisions of the Privacy Act and the Competition and Consumer Act already apply to the cloud services sector," he said.

But the minister said that the government would ask industry to establish a Cloud Consumer Protocol to be developed by the Australian Computer Society, which would set out the standard of service that consumers can expect from cloud providers.

"It will involve national consultation to ensure that IT professionals, cloud providers, and consumer groups have a voice in its development," he said.

The announcement also comes a day after the Australian government indicated that it would bring in a law to require businesses and government agencies to notify customers when their data has been breached.

Conroy said that the strategy would need to be updated as technology and cloud offerings evolve over time.

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