After much anticipation, the UK Government has finally unveiled its online procurement channel for the public sector to obtain cloud computing services on a 'pay as you go' basis. Named CloudStore, the site contains 1,700 services from 258 suppliers and aims to make procurement “quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike." Will this ignite new thinking around how to make best use of the cloud?
According to Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, the site enables government bodies to achieve much-needed cost efficiencies by working on a more ad-hoc basis than other software may have otherwise required.
from PaaS to SaaS in one store
It comprises four service genres – infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, software as a service and specialist cloud services – and individual services including email, word processing, system hosting, enterprise resource planning, electronic records management, customer relationship management and office productivity applications.
In a press statement released around CloudStore’s launch this week, Maude explains: "By creating a competitive marketplace, the G-Cloud framework will constantly encourage service providers to improve the quality and value of the solutions they offer, reducing the cost to taxpayers and suppliers. And it gives SME suppliers of niche products the same opportunities as bigger organizations supplying services.”
"Using cloud solutions that have already been secured and accredited will almost always be less expensive, and we will only pay for what we use. We will also know from the outset the cost of the product and, importantly, the cost of exit from contracts that will be no longer than 12 months."
The launch formed part of a detailed plan for the implementation of the UK Government’s new ICT Strategy which is projected to deliver around £1.4 billion of savings within the next four years and help deliver better public services digitally. Cloud computing is expected to account for half of central government's new ICT spending in that time.
So will this new mechanism prompt other countries to follow suit and centralize their cloud strategies within one central marketplace?
As noted in this blog post last year, experiments are already underway in different parts of the world, but none of them really encapsulate the single hub mantra by which CloudStore is operating. The site is more advanced than its US counterpart Apps.gov, which the Obama administration launched in 2009.
US driving government cloud
Last month, the US General Services Administration (GSA) awarded CGI Group a $20.76 million contract to move some of its websites, including USA.gov and Data.gov, to a public cloud infrastructure within Apps.gov. Once completed, Apps. gov should be operating in a similar way to CloudStore, though cloud is still considered in early adopter mode by US departments.
A recently released report on a cloud project in the US energy department, called Magellan, pointed to a steep learning curve, performance and scalability shortcomings, and missing pieces in the cloud software stack, among other challenges.
That fear of the immaturity of the Cloud is shared over the pond in Australia. According to a recent Ovum report, while enterprise use of public cloud services – which include open resources such as Microsoft’s SharePoint and Apple’s iCloud - is now widespread and growing in the country, perceptions of risk have become somewhat overstated due to cautionary statements made by regulators and security authorities.
Dr Steve Hodgkinson, Research Director for Ovum’s Asia Pacific IT research and advisory services, said in a press statement: “Public cloud services were typically not chosen to save costs. In most cases the service was selected because it was better and faster, even though some changes to information management practices may have been required.”
These public services are not available on CloudStore, but the proprietary nature of the resources offered by the winning vendors is similar. Evidently, CloudStore will play a key role in strong-arming UK authorities to take the plunge into cloud computing on a mainstream basis. Yet, its ability to teach the world on how best to procure cloud systems is questionable.
As Ovum acknowledges in its report: “Not all public cloud services are equal in terms of their ability to meet enterprise reliability and security requirements, so the biggest risk mitigation is the choice of a high quality enterprise-grade cloud services provider”.
Whilst G-Cloud intends to be all about giving the SME a fighting chance, Cloudstore could just go on to prove that bigger is still better when it comes to IT security.
Joe Fernandez is a technology writer and blogger for Futurity Media. As a journalist, he was an editor on Computer Weekly and Microscope magazines and worked as a deputy editor for Marketing Week and its sister title Pitch covering online marketing and social media developments. Joe has also appeared in titles including New Media Age, Guardian Computing, Computing Magazine, The Inquirer and Mobile Magazine.