Earlier this month, the United States Government Office of Budget and Management announced the ‘Cloud First’ policy which requires that all Federal agencies adopt cloud-based data solutions, “whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists”.
The policy forms part of The Accountable Government Initiative,which is designed to increase the efficiency of US Government expenditure. IT forms a large component of the strategy, including a target to reduce data centre numbers through consolidation, and moving agency systems to the cloud.
The obligation on agencies to adopt cloud computing will eliminate the intertia that comes from the convenience of incumbency that keeps most organisations going to the same suppliers for their IT needs.
Intermedium Head of Research, Helen Flint, predicts that this will create the opportunity for new vendors to enter the government market in the US.
“A number of the large multi-national suppliers have well established plans to offer cloud computing, but with those established government suppliers that aren’t offering a suitable cloud computing option, agencies will be forced to seek a supplier that is, and this could really change how IT is run in the US Government,” she said.
Google has done just this, venturing into the government software as a service (SaaS) market with its Google Apps for Government offering.
The Google cloud solution addresses the security concerns obstructing the adoption of cloud computing by creating what it calls a “community cloud” specifically for the US government. In the community cloud, all government data will be segregated away from that of non-government customers.
Google Apps for Government has become the first cloud computing solution to obtain the Federal Information Security Act (FISMA)certification that is required of vendors working with US Federal Government data.
This community cloud approach could feasibly be applied to the Australian Government, which has previously eschewed cloud solutions that involved third party management where the Australian Government was not fully in control of its data, and particularly eschewed off-shore cloud solutions, due to concerns over information security.
Perth’s Curtin University has already chosen to head in this direction, trialling a combination of public and private clouds this year, using Cisco’s UCS technology.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also made tentative steps in 2009, forming its own private cloud in partnership with IBM.
Peter Alexander, Assistant Secretary, Online Services Branch at the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), indicated that AGIMO intended to host the content of the data.gov.au website in the cloud. The establishment of a government data portal was a recommendation of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and aims at making public sector datasets accessible to the public.
The data.gov.au initiative is unaffected by the security concerns usually associated with government cloud hosting because all of the content is intended to be open to the general public.
“We think cloud computing is an appropriate option for data.gov.au since the site’s datasets are being publicly released anyway, which removes a lot of the privacy and security concerns in this area. This option will also allow us to easily scale up the site’s hosting capability in order to host large datasets,” Alexander wrote on the AGIMO Blog.
Both New South Wales and Victoria have also developed public sector ‘data.gov’ information portals as part of their own Gov 2.0 strategies. These too would be appropriate for the cloud for the same reasons, especially as the volume of content that they need to host expands.