Govt pushes ahead with cloud-sharing approach


news The Federal Government today revealed a standardised approach to sharing computing workloads between agencies, in a so-called ‘community cloud’ strategy that will attempt to leverage existing infrastructure operated by major departments such as the Department of Human Services to provide services to smaller agencies.

The community cloud model is one of several cloud computing approaches which the Federal Government is currently exploring, under a collaborative approach between centralised IT strategy agency the Australian Government Information Management Office and a number of other major and minor departments and agencies.

The model is different from both the public cloud (where various unrelated organisations share public IT infrastructure) and private cloud (where a single organisation provides a common private pool of infrastructure to its own workers and internal departments) models, in that it envisions IT infrastructure being provided by large departments within the Federal Government being somewhat standardised so that smaller departments and agencies can also gain access to IT infrastructure.

In doing so, it recognises the fact that in Australia’s Federal Government, large departments such as the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Human Services (including Centrelink), and Department of Immigration and Citizenship already operate large amounts of IT infrastructure and maintain standardised processes for accessing that infrastructure, and that it might make sense for smaller agencies to be able to take advantage of it.

In a blog post on AGIMO’s blog today, AGIMO first assistant secretary Glenn Archer, who leads cloud computing work for the agency, published a draft of a better practice guide for community cloud governance.

“The purpose of this guide is to provide agencies with guidance on providing a governance structure around Community Clouds,” wrote Archer. “It is based around related frameworks using formal agreements that are managed by well-defined governance structures with clear roles and responsibilities. It is important that agencies providing cloud services and those agencies consuming those cloud services have a common understanding of the features and how the service is managed.”

The guide calls for formal agreements to be put in place between agencies that are interested in sharing their clouds, as well as setting up a governance committee and model to manage the use of the IT platforms concerned.

Some of the issues to be considered by agencies considering being involved in cloud sharing include security classifications (for example, a community cloud may operate at various security classification levels which may not be appropriate for the storage of all data sets), the need for standards around interoperability and data portability, and the need to comply with appropriate legislative and regulatory requirements.

It gives examples of governance structures that could be used for community clouds, including the establishment of a community cloud management committee composed of representatives from the lead agency concerned, participating agencies, and involved service providers. Such committees would be overseen by the Federal Government’s existing Cloud Information Community group, as well as the Chief Information Officers’ Committee and Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board groups.

The publication of the guide comes some 18 months after the issue of shared government cloud computing resources was first raised in public by then-Human Services deputy secretary of IT infrastructure John Wadeson (since retired), who told iTNews at the time that departmental CIOs were informally investigating the ability to share computing capacity.

The New South Wales State Government is also investigating the area. Its wide-ranging IT strategy published several weeks ago called for the implementation of virtualisation technology in all government agencies, and the development of a trusted Government private cloud.

I think the idea of community cloud computing is a fantastic one, and a very wise way to unify the two strands of agency-centric IT decision-making in the Federal Government with the need for greater provision and use of common resources across government.

It has long been the case in governments that virtually all of the decision-making ability when it comes to IT infrastructure has been concentrated in agencies rather than in centralised whole of government chief information officer roles. The CIO of the Australian Taxation Office, for example, or of DHS, is hardly going to just hand over control of their IT resources to a central government CIO, when they have their own departmental secretary or chief executive to answer to. And yet, this siloed approach has also meant that the opportunity to set IT policy and use common resources across the whole public sector has often been lost.

The community cloud represents the best of both scenarios. Major centres of IT excellence within the Federal Government can maintain control over their own destinies, while also sharing some of their resources and learnings with what I would call ‘satellite’ agencies; smaller groups which don’t have the same scale but can benefit from it by being a little closer to the centre of things.

I would love to see this principle extended further in governments right around Australia. Perhaps a little of this same approach would help state governments out of the IT shared services mess which they currently find themselves in.

Image credit: Fred Fokkelman, royalty free.


  1. Re:

    “Major centres of IT excellence within the Federal Government can maintain control over their own destinies, while also sharing some of their resources and learnings with what I would call ‘satellite’ agencies; smaller groups which don’t have the same scale but can benefit from it by being a little closer to the centre of things.”

    This already happens. Some larger agencies provide full managed services to smaller, usually portfolio, agencies. The Gateway Service Provider initiative both encourages and facilitates this.

    I don’t understand what a community cloud, as outlined in the better practice guide, would add, over and above what already exists, apart from the overhead of Attachment 1 – Governance Roles and Responsibilities.

  2. The challenge here is that this definition of so called ‘community cloud’ is likely to end up, in practice, just being an old fashioned in-house shared IT service is it not? Same single-tenant-architected infrastructure and applications, same folks, same funding and skills constraints, same governance challenges … really … what will be different?

    Creation of true cloud services requires significant investment in technology, processes and people … it is not just an aspiration. When folks talk about what they are “gonna” do to implement cloud services they are missing the point of “cloudy is as cloudy does”. Cloud is all about buying services that already exist in a rapidly innovating competitive economy … not simply rebadging the desire to achieve more sharing and reuse of ageing legacy ICT assets with a bit of virtualisation within a closed and underfunded monopoly community.

    My worry is that the community cloud idea will just delay agencies from learning how to transition into more efficient and innovative use of enterprise-grade public cloud and hosted private cloud arrangements.

    The community cloud idea will only achieve any real benefit If there is sufficient investment to create a real cloud service … so … how likely is such investment? Did I miss something in the budget? I’ll have to go back and have another read … must be in there somewhere …

  3. I’d much prefer it if the government purchased it’s cloud computing from the private sector. If they standardised on an API (like Amazon’s EC2 / S3 / MR / RDS …) with suitable privacy provisions they could seed the development of a local cloud hosting industry here in Australia. It would be something we could all use. I guess the short term pain would be large, but in the long run I am sure the competition would end up making it is cheaper than they could do it in house. The NBN will put Australia in a unique position IT wise, and it seems like government policy sponsoring the development of complementary infrastructure so we can have out own DropBox’s and whatever would be a natural fit.

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