Cloud computing brings in many benefits to enterprises, governments included. The government of Australia has recently expressed its interest in moving its systems to the cloud, and is in the process of issuing guidelines for its diverse set of departments and agencies.

The Australian Government Information Management Office has recently issued a draft Cloud Computing Strategic Direction Paper, which aims to explore the benefits and opportunities of cloud computing for the Australian government. The paper described the Australian government as "highly dependent upon ICT ... spending an estimated AUD 4.3 billion (US$ 4.26 billion) per annum on ICT."

A study undertaken by the department has determined that over the next 10 to 15 years, development of a data center strategy will result in AUD 1 billion (US$ 990 million) in savings, a task which is to be undertaken through the Australian Government Data Center Strategy.

Several key agencies of the Australian government have already adopted cloud computing in one form or another. Some are currently using private clouds, while others use hybrid cloud deployments. Given the differences in the nature of work and mandates of each government agency though, the draft white paper has recognized that a one-size-fits-all approach might not be applicable.

Concerns and Issues on Cloud Computing

The draft document puts forward several issues that might be considered by any enterprise looking into cloud computing. This includes legal and regulatory concerns, such as compliance with data storage requirements.

An adequate funding model also needs to be considered, particularly in view of the move to operational expenses (OPEX) from capital expenditure (CAPEX), in light of existing procurement laws. Privacy and security are another key concern, especially given the sensitive nature of some government documents and information. Also, the white paper has expressed concern on vendor provisions, such as possible lock-ins, continuity and interoperability.

The paper outlines three basic tasks that the Australian government needs to undertake. First, there is a need to provide agencies with documentation and guidance. Secondly, there is a need to encourage agencies to adopt public cloud services in handling unclassified government services, considering the potential risks. Third is the need to define a strategy for implementing cloud deployments, particularly projects commissioned under the government's Data Center Strategy.

In an interview, Government of South Australia CIO Andrew Mills said that jurisdictions are so broad that organizations face different requirements and risks.

You can't impose a single solution for everyone. You have to provide the tools and let them work out the needs for their business. You certainly wouldn't be using public Cloud CRM for highly sensitive personal information," says Mills.

Shopping for Vendors

The release of the draft paper is seen as a positive development by cloud vendors. Service providers have reportedly been lobbying the government to reconsider current procurement strategies to give way to public and private cloud setups. However, this will not be an easy task. The draft document says that,

[m]igrating some or all of an agency's service delivery to the cloud will involve a major change to the procurement, supply and security of ICT. Modification to the skill set required of agency ICT personnel to accommodate these changes will be required."

AGIMO anticipates a roll-out within the next 12 months, although it concedes that the Office might not necessarily have enough oversight capabilities, considering differences in each government agency's responsibilities and mandates. The department is said to target completion of its strategy by 2012, so that agencies can have a choice of pre-approved vendors for their respective cloud requirements.