G-Cloud – A talk by John Suffolk (hosted by Computer Weekly)

A couple of weeks ago I attended a talk by the UK Government’s CIO – John Suffolk ( See here for more information on his role). At the talk John outlined his idea for a “G-Cloud” (government cloud) with the primary aim of reducing IT costs within government. Central government has around 130 datacenters, and an estimated 9000 server rooms, with local government and quasi-government obviously adding to this figure. Reducing and consolidating these through Cloud Computing would offer significant efficiencies and cost saving. Indeed given that 5% of contract costs are simply for bidding/procurement by simply having less procurement of resources costs would automatically be saved.

John outlined different “cloud-worlds” which he sees as important opportunities for cost saving through cloud computing in government.

1) “The testing world” – by using cloud computing to provide test-kits and environments it is possible to reduce the huge number of essentially idle servers kept simply for testing. For such servers utilisation is estimated at 7%.

2) “The shared world” – Many of the services offered by government require the same standardised and shared services. While these must be hosted internally they offer savings by using Cloud ideas. http://www.direct.gov for example has two data-centres at present – but could these also be used for similar services in other areas?

3) “Web Services world” – This was more unclear in the talk  but centred around the exploitation of cloud offerings through web services. For example could an “App-Store” be developed to aid government in simple procurement of tested and assured services. Could such an App-Store provide opportunities for SMEs to provide software into government through easier procurement processes (which currently preclude many SMEs from trying).

This idea of an App-store is  interesting. It would essentially provide a wrapper around an application to make transparent across government the pricing of an application, the contracting-vehicle required to purchase, the security level it is assured for use with, and details of who in government is using it. Finally deployment tools would be included to allow applications to be rolled out simply.

John acknowledged that many details need ironing out, particularly issues of European procurement rules (and the UKs obsession with following them to the letter of the law).  While government might like to pay-per-use and contract at crown level (so licences can be moved from department to department rather than creating new purchases) this would be a change in the way software is sold and might affect R&D, licence issues, maintenance etc.

The App-Store would be a means to crack the problem of procurement and the time it takes. and so drive costs down for both sides.

What was clear however was the desire to use the cloud for the lower level application stack. To “Disintermediate applications” because “we don’t care about underlying back-end, only care about the software service” – Government can use a common bottom of the stack.

Indeed it was discussed that a standard design for a government desktop-PC might be an “application” within the app-store so centralising this design and saving the huge costs of individual design per department (see http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/317444/ict_strategy4.pdf#page=23 for more details).

Finally the cloud offers government the same opportunities to scale operations to meet demand (for example MyGov pages when new announcements are made, or Treasury when the budget is announced), however this scalable-service would also affect costs and might not be justified in the budgeting.  While we look at the cloud to stop web-sites going down there is also a cost to providing such scalable support for the few days a year it is needed – cloud or no cloud.

Thank you to Computer Weekly for inviting me to this event!