Gartner approves as clouds swirl Canberra


The final release of a strategic directions paper on cloud computing by the Federal Government has been praised by a distinguished analyst at research house Gartner, as discussion about how and whether governments should jump on board the new cloud paradigm continues to swirl in Canberra.

The government’s peak ICT strategy agency, the Australian Government Information Management Office, had initially released its Cloud Computing Strategic Directions paper back in January this year.

In its document, AGIMO made it clear that although the technology as a whole was still “emerging”, and the legal, economic and security aspects were still relatively immature, it was clear there was “a major shift” towards the cloud model and that benefits from using it may be “substantial”. As a consequence, the agency has produced a phased transition model for services to shift to different types of cloud — when there is a benefit and where security was adequate.

Releasing a final version of the paper last week, whole of government chief information officer Ann Steward said a number of actions — such as meetings with industry — had taken place since the release of the paper. In addition, the paper had been updated with further detail, especially with respect to current examples of cloud use by agencies.

Additionally, a group which AGIMO has named the Cloud Information Community has been established, including representatives from federal, state, territory and international governments, to discuss the issues around cloud computing.

In a post on his blog, Gartner distinguished analyst Andrea di Maio praised the document, and said it seemed as if the Australian Government had been watching the US very closely and had taken a more cautious approach than the Americans, “aiming at offering help from the center rather than forcing behaviors, and developing those frameworks and resources in a more collegial style”. The UK is also expected to publish its government cloud strategy “shortly”.

“The Australian caution is also well justified by the presumably slower development of “community clouds” in their jurisdiction, given how long it has been taking to companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM to establish theirs for the US feds, and the fact that adoption in the US is not yet fast enough to make those vendors think seriously about their next location for a government cloud,” wrote di Maio.

The news comes as others within the Federal Government have also been discussing the cloud computing situation in recent weeks.

The Defence Signals Directorate last week published a checklist paper (news of which broke through iTNews) which it said would enable departments and agencies to perform risk assessments to determine the viability of using cloud computing services in their operations. The DSD is one of the key agencies tasked with ensuring government security. The full cloud computing paper is available online (PDF).

Critically, the agency said it recommended against outsourcing IT services outside of Australia, unless agencies were dealing with data that was already publicly available.

“DSD strongly encourages agencies to choose either a locally owned vendor or a foreign-owned vendor that is located in Australia and stores, processes and manages sensitive data only within Australian borders,” the agency wrote. “Note that foreign-owned vendors operating in Australia may be subject to foreign laws, such as a foreign government’s lawful access to data held by that vendor.”

The recommendation has the potential to continue to cut a number of large vendors — notably, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and — from providing cloud computing services to Australian government agencies, as the vendors have not established datacentres in Australia, preferring instead to maintain facilities in Singapore or the US.

Image credit: Nicolas Raymond, royalty free