UK Government commits to cloud computing for public sector

The Government has asked all public sector bodies to make future IT purchases consistent with cloud computing so that it can move all its digital services into a private, secure 'cloud' called 'G-cloud' for government bodies.

In its Digital Britain report the Government said that it wanted the public sector to reap the benefites of scalable, speed of provisioning and flexible pricing that it says cloud computing can bring.

While it consults with an IT trade body the Government has told all departments to make sure that all IT procurement from now on is compatible with cloud computing.

"All those Government bodies likely to procure ICT services should look to do so on a scaleable, cloud basis such that other public bodies can benefit from the new capability," said the Digital Britain report.

Cloud computing is the use of massive central computing resources for IT work, with more modest computers connected to servers by networks. With the increasing ubiquity of broadband internet access cloud computing has become increasingly widespread.

The Digital Britain report outlined the phenomenon as has been observed in the consumer world. "The 'public' cloud – where services can run on any server anywhere in the world – has attracted attention from industry commentators," it said. "Achieving it, would be a first around the world for Digital Britain."

It is not the report's recommendation, though, that the Government run its business over public cloud networks.

"There are issues of meeting governmental needs for data location, security, data recovery, availability and reliability [with cloud computing]," it said.

The Government's Chief Information Officer (CIO) and CIO Council has consulted with high tech industry trade body Intellect and has commissioned a strategy study to investigate the use of cloud computing in Government, which will be called a 'G-Cloud'.

"The strategy study has established a route-map towards the creation of a G-Cloud, as part of the rationalisation of data centres used by Government and the wider public sector," it said. "This would both allow Government to benefit from the core attributes of Cloud Computing e.g. enhanced user experience, flexible pricing, elastic scaling, rapid provisioning, advanced virtualisation while also maintaining the appropriate levels of security, accountability and control required for most Government systems, and lead to substantial savings in costs."

"The establishment of a G-Cloud will however require investment in technical development and physical facilities, and the CIO Council and the Intellect Public Sector Council are now developing the strategic business case to justify funding the G-Cloud," it said.

The Government said that if the business case is proven then it would expect a G-Cloud to be saving money in procurement and IT projects within three years.

In order to ensure a consistent policy across Government, the report says that the CIO should have the ultimate decision making responsibility on IT procurement. "That will secure Government-wide standards and systems," it said.

The report also highlighted the Government's policy that when it commissions work which creates intellectual property rights (IPR), those rights should not stop others from using the work.

It is OPSI [Office of Public Sector Information]'s overriding recommendation that, wherever possible, IP under Crown copyright is made available for re-use by anyone, thereby maximising the potential economic benefit," it said. "This is consistent with the Government’s approach to open source, open standards and reuse, where IP created by Government IT is available for re-use by anyone."

The report said, though, that Government departments do not follow this guidance and many not only restrict the use of IP in different ways but even use different definitions of IP itself. It said that the Government would establish a pilot system of simpler IPR licensing in projects by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA).

The Digital Britain report also said that Government needed to try harder to make its procurement processes accessible for smaller companies that might come up with more imaginative technical solutions than large existing suppliers.

"The barriers to entry can lead to the Government or wider public sector becoming dependent on incumbent providers," it said. "The complexity and scale of both the tender process and procurement information demands can often also militate against entry to the market of smaller, innovative companies, to the detriment of public service users."

It said that the Government should create some trials of a simplified, fast-track procurement process that would be more accessible to companies that previously could only have been sub-contractors to larger firms.