news The New South Wales State Government has revealed that it will trial both Google- and Microsoft-based cloud email platforms, as its interest in the new cloud computing paradigm continues to develop.
In February this year, the state kicked off two trials of virtual desktop and cloud email services, in a move which could eventually signal a mass migration of some 30,000 government users into the cloud and which represents one of the first concrete steps by the state into the new cloud computing landscape.
Today, Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce announced the suppliers selected to deliver the cloud-based services to shared services agency ServiceFirst, as part of a broad initiative to pilot cloud services across a range of NSW Government agencies. Hewlett-Packard will supply the Desktop as a Service aspect of the trial, while Unisys will supply the Microsoft-based ‘messaging as a service’ (email and collaboration services) aspect of the trial. New Zealand-headquartered IT services company Fronde will supply the Google cloud email platform.
Pearce said the testing of multiple cloud-based systems across different scenarios and environments would provide industry with vital information about the specific needs of government. “Cloud services facilitate simple, convenient and on demand access to a shared pool of computing services and falls under the objectives of the NSW Government ICT Strategy,” Pearce said. “Cloud is part of the future of ICT service delivery and these pilots will play a key role in helping government make the right decisions about adopting cloud-based solutions.”
A new version of the NSW Government’s Procure IT Framework was released in June 2011 to provide improved standard contract terms for procuring ICT services. Expressions of interest were called in February this year to provide Desktop as a ervice and Messaging as a Service, including a Proof of Concept, to ServiceFirst. The ServiceFirst trial will run for three months.
Pearce said: “The guidelines in this framework for use by government agencies seek to enable
more efficient processes and outcomes when entering into arrangements with suppliers for ICT procurement. Multiple cloud based systems will be tested across different scenarios and
environments to ensure they are cost-effective, secure and efficient.” NSW is also planning separate pilot projects in the areas of Enterprise Resource Planning as a service, Infrastructure as a Service and shared services multi-tenanted email as a service.
The news comes as other states are also looking at the potential to deliver services through cloud computing. Queensland IT Minister Ian Walker recently said the state would shift to a ‘cloud-first’ IT procurement model and is already considering a similar email/collaboration project as NSW, following the collapse of its whole of government email program.
Analysis of the Victorian Government’s recent whole of government ICT strategy has also shown that the state has placed a heavy focus on the adoption of cloud computing.
However, not all jurisdictions are as positive about cloud services. The Federal Government earlier this month released a new cloud computing security and privacy directive which requires departments and agencies to explicitly acquire the approval of the Attorney-General and their relevant portfolio minister before government data containing private data can be stored in offshore facilities. The move is expected to stymie the use of offshore cloud computing facilities by Federal Government departments and agencies.
Most of this is as expected, but I can see several points worth being made from Minister Pearce’s media release today. Firstly, it’s not surprising that HP picked up the desktop virtualisation work. The company has expertise in both its own solutions and those of VMware, as well as substantial experience deploying desktop solutions to the public sector.
However, the email situation is a little different. For starters, keen-eyed observers will note that Unisys may not technically be providing what we normally think of as a cloud-based email solution in its trial involving Microsoft technology. To get the full benefit of scale here, what we would expect to see is the Federal Government dealing directly with Microsoft with respect to its Office 365 suite, especially so now that Microsoft has announced that it will be constructing local datacentres for its Windows Azure platform.
NSW probably isn’t going for a straight Microsoft solution because of the company’s offshore hosting issues. It will be able to get more flexibility through going for a hosted email solution with Unisys, hosted, no doubt, on-shore. I would be surprised if Unisys is acting as an integrator for a Microsoft-based email solution with data stored offshore.
However, it’s worth noting that in the case of Gmail, there really is no option — all data must be stored offshore in Google’s datacentres, which, we have recently discovered courtesy of Edward Snowden, constitute attractive honeypots for the US National Security Agency to pick over. Another interesting factor is the appointment of Fronde — a NZ IT services firm — rather than an Australian Google integrator to conduct the trial.
I don’t know for sure. But if I had to guess, I’d say that what we’re seeing here is the trial of two options at different ends of the IT scale. It’s likely the Unisys email solution is stored on-shore in a Unisys datacentre, and not using Microsoft’s offshore Office 365 software as a service platform. In this sense, it is likely this solution can be described more accurately as “hosted”, rather than “cloud”. On the other end of the scale, we’re likely seeing Gmail, hosted offshore.
Out of these two options, there really is no doubt which the NSW Government is likely to pick. The Google option will no doubt lose out. Despite the fact that it’s easier to use than Microsoft’s platform, will probably be welcomed by more users and will be cheaper and simpler to administer, the offshore hosting aspect and the access by US law enforcement authorities will be a huge issue here. It’s a pity. Because if I’m right, despite the NSW Government branding the word “cloud” all over its media release today, there really isn’t much “cloud” in an on-shore hosted Microsoft Exchange implementation with a traditional IT outsourcer.
I could be wrong: Happy to be corrected.