Govt cloud thinking moves up the stack

Most government agencies still running Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003, says government cloud programme director

The all-of-government cloud “roadmap” has so far concentrated at the lower levels of infrastructure, but is pushing tentatively higher in the stack to explore what applications and even what business processes government agencies might be able to use in common.

This is the picture presented by Stuart Wakefield, director in charge of the cloud programme at the office of the Government CIO.

“I’m certainly under no illusions about the orders of magnitude increasing in complexity as you go up that stack, the low-hanging fruit has been picked in that regard,” he told the audience at a recent meeting of the New Zealand Computer Society’s Wellington branch. But the opportunity to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector is greater by acting at that higher level, he says.

Perception of commonalities at a higher level means potential extension of the concept of “as-a-service”, beyond the traditional trio of software, platform and infrastructure-as-a-service. “Where are the logical points in the stack where defining a service makes sense?” Wakefield asks. “Could we evolve a business-process-as-a-service model? I’m not sure we’ve arrived at an answer to that yet.”

Areas with the greatest potential benefit will be those that satisfy a clear need across a number of government agencies and where at the same time the technology is at a mature stage, he says. One area where these obviously come together is in office productivity tools such as word processing, spreadsheeting and collaboration tools.

This, he says, is “an area of quite urgent need. Most government agencies are still running Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. Both come to end-of-life in the next couple of years, so we have a key imperative.”

An “indicative business case” for the cloud, now in preparation, will try to identify more of these specific areas and at the same time will be try to deal with “those cross-cutting issues that are relevant to anything you might ever want to do in a cloud context,” he says.

Among these broad ranging issues are the security and risk profile appropriate to each agency. “As a generalisation, it’d be fair to say that the current state of agency datacentre arrangements has left a little bit to be desired in terms of security and risk,” Wakefield says. The initial formation of a common infrastructure as a service (IaaS) layer will “bring everybody up to a common level. The infrastructure will be based on “purpose-built data centres in places selected for resilience and network connectivity.”

Aside from pure technical, practical development, important changes will be required at governance and management levels. “Most of the IT budget in the public service is set up as capital and quite differently managed from operating expenditure,” Wakefield says. “An important factor is how an agency moves away from having a significant amount of owned assets on its books into the model of paying a rental for utility-type services. A key part of our thinking is weighing up the differences between those two quite different economic models and the pros and cons of each.”

Wakefield is clear that potential providers will play a large role in shaping the way the cloud approach evolves. To that end a registration of interest (RoI) for the cloud programme was published on December 6 last year.

This will not be a conventional procurement exercise. The typical request for expression of interests and request for proposal is based on a fairly firm idea of what is needed. The cloud exercise is not at that stage, he says. “We’ve tried to position it much more as ‘here’s where we see the opportunity but we want to understand what the range of options and solutions is’.”

The indicative business case is scheduled to be complete by the end of April. It will then go to Cabinet for approval.

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