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.