The Cloud of Unknowing

June 6, 2013

I’m pleased to say that the International Journal of Technoethics has just published a paper by me entitled “The ‘Cloud’ of Unknowing – What a Government Cloud May and May Not Offer: A Practitioner Perspective”, International Journal of Technoethics 4(1) 1-10 January – June 2013.

The abstract is as follows:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

Whilst I have been largely silent on this blog I have continued with academic work, possibly more reading than writing, but have a couple of other drafts in process, along with what is hopefully a more profound work that may one day see the light of day.


G-cloud of unknowing

October 18, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that my paper “The ‘cloud’ of unknowing – what a government cloud may and may not offer: a practitioner perspective” has been accepted by the International Journal of Technoethics for publication in early 2013. Since this is a long while to wait here’s the abstract:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

I do hope you enjoy…


Good progress

May 6, 2012

It has recently been down to UK Member of Parliament Michael Dugher to try and determine the state of the G-Cloud and Greening Government IT Strategy. In an a list of questions and (sort of) answers published in Hansard that will have amused journalists by their vacuity, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude effectively responds by saying that all will be revealed in the near future in the annual reports. I do know that the Green IT Strategy was in preparation when I was last in conference with the Green Development Unit in March 2012, but the bigger wait is for the ICT Strategy annual report itself.

The major revelation from the questioning was that, at a cost of £4.93 Million the G-Cloud is expected to save an estimated £340 million, which is amazing! I wonder if this saving includes that from the Public Sector Network (PSN) or is it purely from the cloud? Over what period will that saving be made – five years, ten years, twenty years? However when Mr Dugher asked Mr Maude about the number of data centres government maintained in May 2010, March 2011, September 2011 and March 2012, all Mr Maude could say was that “In February 2012, Cabinet Office collected baseline information on the number of data centres maintained by Departments in order to progress commitments to consolidate and rationalise data centres to help save energy and costs in line with Government ICT Strategy. This information will be published alongside ICT Strategy annual update report, due shortly. Information on the number of data centres across Government prior to this February 2012 is not available.” However, back in May 2011 some figures were provided by Cabinet Office to the Public Administration Committee dated 30 March 2011 in a written answer stating “A survey commissioned by CIO Council during June 2010 identified 220 Data Centres across Central Government”, which I suspect was an underestimate since I clearly remember someone, possibly Andrew Stott, quoting a figure nearer 400 to the Local CIO Council a couple of  years ago.

When Michael Dugher asks the Minister for the Cabinet Office what progress he has made on the implementation of G-Cloud computing, the response is a resounding “The G-Cloud programme is making good progress”. I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know…


A cloudy outlook

April 6, 2012

I had been challenging a major software developer over the last few years as to how they were going to deal with moving their services to some sort of ‘cloud’ solution. I’d then heard from a major hardware and ‘cloud’ provider that they were holding conversations with a software company that sounded very much like the one I’d been baiting. Having, as one of my last actions, pointed out the many errors in their ways to the software house before I left my job, I got a response to the question of ‘cloud’-based applications, which was interesting since I am preparing an academic paper on ‘clouds’.

The senior person at the supplier told me that they had been making pretty detailed investigations into hosting their applications as a cloud platform. One key outcome is that it became most viable if they hosted them, rather than having them hosted by a third-party – that’s according to their figures. A further revelation was how they could actually sell them at a realistic price – sticking applications in the cloud takes away many of the other costs around local hosting be that electricity, cooling, hardware and software upgrading that don’t necessarily appear in an IT revenue budget, but these costs will then appear in any ‘per seat’ costs the supplier has to charge to make a profit. This takes us back to the challenges around government accounting principles dealt with in earlier posts, and which my supplier friend agreed with.

Whilst efficiencies of scale are necessarily a key saving in general government processes, when it comes down to avoiding a multiplicity of data centres, each with their own power, ‘tin’, security, networking, cooling and management, if local authorities are all running the same application for the same service, there has to be a change of view – this has to be planned for sooner rather than later…


Cloudy days

February 26, 2012

With the recent launch of the Government App Store, G-Cloud, cloudstore, govstore or whatever it’s actually to be finally branded, a number of commentators have noted that it’s an interesting list for its absentees. Whilst one can’t complain about the list which is lengthy – and Kuan did a good job of translating the spreadsheet into a list – a couple of key government and local government suppliers are absent. I can pick out Northgate and Civica as particularly noticeable.

Probably nearly two years ago I emailed a Northgate director and asked them for their plans in dealing with the ‘cloud’, the only response was that this was being passed along to the director responsible for developments. This is just to emphasise that Northgate and Civica can’t be unaware of G-Cloud and in fact Northgate operate a ‘private cloud‘   and the same applies to Civica, who also have a private cloud service, and as with Northgate aim this at the education sector.

But why aren’t they on the list? Why also aren’t local government services such as revenues & benefits, development management or environmental health being treated to such an approach? Are they such ‘cash cows’ that they’re afraid of losing money? Is the education sector, now so fragmented by central government policy, that it’s an easy picking? I don’t know the answers but I bet the first one in the market with some of these solutions on the CloudStore will gain a lot of interest from hard-pressed local government. Early days, I suppose…


How green is my cloud?

March 10, 2011

Being a proponent of the G-Cloud, but also a long-time environmental activist leaves me in a quandary – how  green is the ‘cloud’? A report by James Urqhart of the Wisdom of Clouds on ‘Cloud computing’s green paradox‘ was a useful guide, establishing that “the “greenness” of cloud computing is a kind of Schroedinger’s box problem today, in which we won’t know the actual savings to the environment until someone actually observes–or measures–it”.  Another person pushing the need for measurement is the Greenmonk.

There is obviously a very fine balance to be drawn between having a fully resilient data centre with lots of empty rack space using electricity for air-conditioning, delivering services over a crumbling network infrastructure that is leaking power with numerous balanced data centres delivering local  services over an efficient local network. How will anybody know? Will anybody check? It has to be done by measuring the Kilo Watt/Hours over an extended period for both server rooms, desktop and local area and wide area networks. Perhaps importantly, have we got our local measurement done to set a benchmark before we set out on this adventure?

Has anybody come up with a tidy model that includes end-to-end costs in relation to performance, before and after?


Cloudsourcing

February 22, 2011

In government IT one get’s used to the fact that you can’t win. In my view the answer to the Balkanization of government IT is more efficient sharing of applications, better procurement of applications and better sharing of data (if and when required), in other words the G-Cloud. The Cabinet Office in the UK has now released the documents envisioning G-Cloud Programme Phase 2.

Unfortunately, some people see this as another way of sharing citizen data amongst government and a mechanism of circumventing the now dumped ID card project! The latest portrayal of this view is in Computer Weekly.

In contrast to this view I’d argue that if we are to reduce the number of government data centres, reduce the cost of data connections, cut the charges paid to a shrinking band of suppliers (who have local government by the short & curlies) and reduce support costs, we have to look to another way of delivering IT services. G-Cloud can be the only way.

G-Cloud gives government the opportunity to dictate standards, quality and support to a level that the current regime of ‘divide and rule’ by suppliers has never permitted. It starts to give government IT the upper hand for once, so I can see why some won’t suppliers like it, but as to willy-nilly data-sharing – I don’t think so!


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