Government strikes out with new cloud venture

New RFP to specify onshore hosting - will Microsoft be eligible?

Government is “taking the next step towards a cloud-computing strategy”, says Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain, announcing a forthcoming request for proposal (RFP) for hosted office productivity services.

This new cloud tender will be distinct from the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) arrangements already in place with Revera, Datacom and IBM, says spokeswoman Jenna Raeburn for Tremain. “That’s so we can go to market with an open tender”. If the IaaS set-up and the new cloud service end up on different servers, “we don't see this as a major efficiency risk [given] the ready availability of high-speed interconnections between all existing NZ datacentres, says Stuart Wakefield, director at the office of the Government CIO. “In any event IaaS is spread over multiple physical datacentres.” Both IaaS-supported and independent options could be considered as part of the tender process, he says. Alongside this specific RFP, a more general cloud policy is emerging: “All [government] agencies will be expected to take a ‘cloud first’ approach when making procurement decisions,” says Tremain in his announcement.

“This is expected to drive the standardisation of technology solutions and services, but does not necessitate the selection of only one solution for all agencies. Agencies will continue to have flexibility to directly engage with service providers but will be expected to act within all-of-government frameworks,” he says.

“The security of and access to information stored in the cloud remains paramount and the government is taking a conservative, cautious approach,” says Tremain. “For the time being, cloud-based office productivity services will be hosted onshore to enable us to better manage these issues.”

This would seem to risk unbalancing the open tender, since the most popular supplier of office productivity services such as word processing and spreadsheets is Microsoft, which does not have a datacentre in New Zealand. Microsoft does, however, have an arrangement with Revera to provide its public cloud systems on Revera's private cloud infrastructure in a hybrid cloud service that Revera has named “Homeland Collaboration”.

An opinion piece in Computerworld by Randal Jackson raised a storm of comment, some of it speculating that the US government would still have power to investigate any data held for NZ government agencies by Microsoft, since it is a US company, regardless of the fact that the data is hosted in New Zealand. Other commentators dismissed this view.

But to use a purely local offering raises the possibility of government agencies being encouraged to switch to non-Microsoft applications, or having a convenient escape clause from the all-of-government cloud solution by citing the expense of retraining.

Wakefield envisages no lack of support for Microsoft or competing applications locally. “There are a number of existing local datacentre providers who have indicated willingness and/or announced plans to partner with software application providers, so we don’t think new data centre build will necessarily be required in order to meet government’s needs,” he says.

The RFP will be issued “in the coming weeks”, says Raeburn. “In parallel,” says Tremain’s statement, “a policy framework is being developed by [the DIA] in collaboration with other agencies. The department will report back to ministers by the end of the year.”

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