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Cloud vendors not cutting it, say govt CIOs

Very few provide true cloud services that allow organisations to scale up and scale down

Everyone’s talking about cloud computing, but some government CIOs are still not convinced, arguing that the market is still immature with one saying that some vendors are simply “repackaging” outsourcing services.

During a panel session at CIO’s recent digital assets event in Canberra recently, Gary Sterrenberg, CIO at the Department of Human Services (DHS), told attendees there were only one or two cloud vendors that could provide ‘true’ cloud capabilities.

He was referring to 'as-a-service' agreements where users can “scale up or scale down” computing services depending on their needs.

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“I think we are seeing a repackaged version of outsourcing from some of the vendors, but there are others that are emerging as global players,” Sterrenberg said.

“We [DHS] are certainly hoping that in Australia the cloud providers mature a lot more … and we are waiting for one to break free because everybody seems to trying to do repackaged outsourcing with the title ‘cloud’ on it.”

Sterrenberg said it was important how ‘narrow utility’ services from cloud vendors are bridged together. He said there is a ‘risk transfer’ to a third-party cloud provider for government departments, which are required to be the custodians of information about citizens.

“If you lose an identity, you can be sued for millions,” Sterrenberg said. “So is the cloud vendor prepared to take accountability for the lawsuit that will come?” he asked.

“We are trying to work with industry to say to be feasible as a capability for government ... it has to be a different relationship, and until the vendors are bold enough to go there, we are going to be stuck with limiting our access to this potential capability [using cloud services] to external websites and limited commodity-type stuff.

“So I’m hopeful that we can engage with the vendor community to try and stretch them to a new paradigm.”

Meanwhile, Glenn Archer, Australian Government CIO, pointed out that cloud services fail and fail regularly.

“At the end of the day, government is not entirely like large corporate … government is expected by citizens to be there forever, to be reliable and a stable provider of the services that they expect,” Archer said.

“One of the things we [government] don’t have a handle on is when a major cloud vendor [such as] Amazon or Microsoft Azure fails ... I’m just one of 10,000 important people across the planet who are complaining about an outage.

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“And the degree by which we can influence the responsive of that cloud provider is very limited.”

Archer said there have been some examples already within government where cloud services have failed, compromising service delivery.

Consequently, agencies with disparate operations have realised that they don’t necessarily have a good handle on business continuity issues. These include recovery of their data or service, and how long it should take to advise citizens and customers of an outage, Archer said.

"There's a whole range of practices and procedures that we've learnt how to do for a long time that we don't have there."

However, cloud is a key part of the government’s future, said Archer.

“It’s just that we need to be conscious about when and where it makes sense. While there’s a lot written about the potential savings from cloud, I think the more interesting thing is that cloud might be one of those tools that allows us to innovate,” he said.

Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly

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Tags Gary SterrenbergAustralian GovernmentGlenn ArcherDepartment of Human Services

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