G-Cloud project is 'alive and kicking'

The government's cloud-computing project is on course again, after a hiatus, and is working on changing the public sector's approach to procurement and small businesses
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The G-Cloud is "alive and kicking" despite uncertainty about its future in a climate of budget cuts, according to a member of the delivery board for the government's cloud-computing project.

The G-Cloud project, which was delayed following the general election in 2010, enjoys the support of government ministers, according to Ministry of Justice official Martin Bellamy.

"Anyone who thought the G-Cloud had gone a bit quiet, or that it's died — well, no it's not, it's alive and kicking," Bellamy told a Westminster eForum event on Tuesday. "The vision remains intact, and there is increasing promise of delivery."

The project, which in part aims to see a reduction in the costs of datacentres, has been running a number of pilot projects. The Home Office has implemented a multi-tenanted private cloud through managed hosting provider Savvis, and Warwickshire County Council has piloted Gmail and Google Docs, according to Bellamy.

The government wants to use public cloud providers where possible and to increase the use of SME providers, but faces a number of challenges in public G-Cloud implementation, he added.

Changing the culture of civil service procurement is a "substantial challenge", he told the London audience.

G-Cloud challenges

Later, speaking to ZDNet UK at the event, Bellamy explained that the challenge lies in trying to get public-sector workers used to purchasing IT based on specifying all aspects of a project to adapt to a cloud-service approach.

"It's related to people who grew up in IT in the 80's and 90's, where putting IT in place [meant] a specified solution in terms of business outcome," Bellamy told ZDNet UK. "The cloud model is driven by standards."

Anyone who thought the G-Cloud had gone a bit quiet, or that it's died — well, no it's not, it's alive and kicking.
– Martin Bellamy, Ministry of Justice

Civil service IT professionals were used to specifying the components of the solution, the operating system and the hardware. They then decided which proprietary standard to use, and relied on public-sector datacentres for delivery, according to Bellamy. They were not used to specifying standards and dealing with public-cloud providers, he noted.

The government has stated that it wants to give more small and mid-sized businesses the chance to participate in procurement. Bellamy said he believes such suppliers are capable of providing adequate security in cloud products for a mass of government data. Most government data does not require high levels of security, and if a piece of software or service is "good enough", then the public sector can validate it, he argued.

The government is looking for small businesses to work in tandem with cloud providers, as normally those providers will not adapt or write government applications for cloud use, or provide a "service wrap".

In addition, government services that require a higher level of security are unlikely to use public cloud computing in the foreseeable future, Bellamy added.

'Supplier engagement'

Further difficulties the government is facing include "supplier engagement". Many small businesses are reluctant to come forward, as initial stages of procurement have normally taken about two years, said Bellamy. The government is trying to cut procurement times as part of its efforts to attract more small contractors.

Overall, some government departments have embraced the concept of cloud services, but are finding challenges in implementation, Bellamy said. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has one of the largest IT operations, processing £140bn in taxes per year and running trade systems for import and export.

A major challenge for HMRC is how to assess the risks of cloud provision, and cloud providers do not make this clear in their contracts, according to Mark Hall, deputy chief information officer at the department.

"The transparency of cloud provision is difficult," Hall told ZDNet UK at the eForum event. "We have less ability to audit [cloud companies], and the chain of providers is not transparent. In large outsourced systems integrator projects we know all the providers."

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