Open and shut cloud

October 16, 2011

Following on from the previous post about cloud and open source, I discover a number of further reports with varying opinions.

First of al, the September/October 2011 edition of ITU – UKauthorITy in Use has a report by Dan Jellinek of a live debate on Open Standards in the public sector. In it Bill McCluggage states that the UK government is set to publish a draft list of ten or twelve open standards that are likely to include ones such as HTTPS, Unicode UTF8 and word processing formats. McCluggage also disagrees with the PASC recommendation that government “should omit references to proprietary products and formats in procurement notices”, something I find rather strange, when this is clearly a useful, if limited, way forward.

In contrast a story in the MIT Technology Review by Michael Fitzgerald dated 6 October 2011 entitled “Can an Open Cloud Compete?” agrees with an earlier opinion stating “most cloud services are proprietary, and the technology used to run them is kept secret. Once a company signs up for one cloud service, it can be difficult to move to another provider”. As a contrast it then goes on to describe the OpenStack conference in Boston, USA and some other new projects developing both open cloud software, and hardware.

A further opinion supporting open cloud is in the May 17 2011 Linux Journal in a piece by Bernardo David entitled “Open Source Cloud Computing with Hadoop” describing the large number of major users of Hadoop including Google, Amazon and others. The risks involved in cloud are highlighted in an article in Guardian Government Computing 10 October 2011 by Mike Small explaining that “the cloud is not a single model, but covers a wide spectrum from applications shared between multiple tenants to virtual servers used by one customer”, something I described before.

With these contrasting opinions of whether cloud can be open or even whether when using open source it remains open, the only option for the user is to ensure that any procurement notice or contract ensures that they are not locked into any form of proprietary software or hardware by the supplier, patentee or owner of any intellectual property involved. A veritable legal minefield until the dust cloud settles.


Visions of the ideal

August 15, 2010

When discussing e-democracy the academic literature is full of visions of the ideal state. Some such material has been presented at the 4th Annual Conference on Online Deliberation (OD 2010). I received an invitation at some stage and suppose with it being on my relative doorstep in Leeds, I could have attended, if I didn’t have to earn a few peanuts as an IT Manager.

Dan Jellinek reproduced a paper from there in issue 317 of the E-Government Bulletin entitled “The Future of Citizenship: Loudest Shout or Best Argument?”. In these instances I always have to remind myself that we live in a representative democracy, which isn’t really built for anyone outside the anointed host to have an affect upon decision-making. The person in the street gave away their opportunity to make an impact when they voted. They may be able to shout at their elected representatives, send them emails, write letters, deliver petitions and perform many other tasks; but in the end it’s the a combination of the full-time officials and the politicians that come up with the goods.

This opinion isn’t overruled by statements in the piece in the E-Government Bulletin which includes phrases such as “the limited role assigned to citizens in the political process”, “the views of citizens remain largely invisible” and “the Internet is a potential space for the creation of a more deliberative democracy”. In my own view the Town Hall is a potential space for the creation of a more deliberative democracy and once the changes are agreed there, the Internet as it is for everything else, can be used to facilitate them…

Or am I being too negative?

To the e-barricades!

May 25, 2010

Dan Jellinek of E-government Bulletin fame has reported on the recent EDEM10 conference. Two presentations are picked up on in particular. The first is that by Dr Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society who described how the e-democracy sector had failed. The reason behind this, he believes, is that only 4% of the UK population are actively involved in politics or community work and that more needs to be done to get the claimed interest (far more claim to be interested) into action. He does recognize that moving towards a more deliberative system (surely the intended outcome of e-democracy) will be as a result of evolution and will require changes to the system of government.

The other presentation reported by Dan is from Ismael Pena-Lopez, of Catalonia, who examined the digital divide and saw the rise of a “goverati”, who had the skills to access the electronic information around governance. Ismael is not the first to raise the issue of a potential elite forming, elsewhere in the literature there have been fears that those employing the e-channels for political ends and those with existing interest and access to politics, whilst not perhaps doing it deliberately, are developing a niche of their own.

In my own research I’ve borrowed the terminology of philosophy, Immanuel Kant in particular, describing these situations as the antinomies of modern government. E-government has been brought in, full of promises of improving access to government, as well as services it delivers. However, being in a representative democracy the shift to any level of participation, as required by the tenets of e-democracy may take some time, as those in power may not wish to relinquish power quite so easily…or have the ability to release it.