Enter any Cloud conference, training session or seminar and you’re immediately faced with all the hallmarks of a cult. Vendor employees are no longer engineers or sales people — they are ‘evangelists’ sent to spread the good message of Cloud; their Cloud, to be precise. When presentations aren’t peppered with marketing jargon about their ‘game changing’ services, they’re often littered with judgment Clouding puns.
This article is part one of a two-part series on government use of Cloud computing.
Yet, what seems most out of line is the audience reception. Just try to recall the last time an IT manager waxed poetic about the wonders of mainframes or air-cooled data centres, at least with the same fervour with which they talked about their latest Cloud implementation. It seems those pushing Cloud products could simply sell the air that make up their namesakes, labelled with a brand, and still turn a buck.
Fresh from successful ventures in the private sector, Cloud providers have flocked to Canberra in search of the largest ICT buyers in
Australia, those with budgets surmounting $4.3 billion annually: Those in Federal Government.
The trend has turned into a ‘revolving door’ of Cloud providers at government meeting rooms bringing a bounty of free trials and consultations; mana from heaven for those unwilling to spare the loose change in their pocket without good reason.
But all that raises the question: Is the Cloud a vendor-driven fad or is it a legitimate solution to the cost and service constraints faced by a government determined to return to fiscal surplus by 2012-2013?
The vendor conundrum
The answer to this lies partly in the role of vendors in the IT decision making process; however, depending on who talk to, providers are either all-powerful or minnows in a pond of big fish.
Frost & Sullivan analyst, Arun Chandrasekaran, is certain any government move to the Cloud, regardless of local, state or federal jurisdictions, would involve consultation between the strategists within the departments, the CIOs that front IT spending and the end-users that seek something more from the tied-down application spectrum.
“They have less of an influence than they probably think they have,” he says.
But those decisions are easily muddied when the vendor messages approaching the public service attack CIOs from all sides.
“It’s still unjustifiably confusing,” says Gartner analyst Andre di Maio; someone who has watched the Cloud moves of governments globally for several years.
The current situation is akin to the talks around multi-sourcing several years ago, a ‘second wave’ that is highlighted by use of terms like ‘hybrid Cloud’; ones that often do more harm to an organisation’s understanding of the technology than good.
But, di Maio says, users are getting smarter. His proof of this is none other than the Australian Government’s Cloud Computing Strategic Direction Paper; an in-depth, 45-page document released in April by the government’s lead procurement agency that sets out direction guidelines which departments should consider when investigating Cloud models. Both di Maio and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) behind the direction paper stress its contents are by no means “strategy” but rather a step forward to potentially utilise Cloud services in ways that “improve business outcomes through eliminating redundancy, increasing agility and providing information and communication technology services at a potentially cheaper cost”.