Cloud computing 'emerging from hype cycle'

Public sector cloud computing has been caught in a "hype cycle" inflating expectations about savings, from which it is only now emerging, Jos Creese, chief information officer at Hampshire County Council, told ITU Live on Thursday.

"Some of the statistics that have been bandied around of 90% savings - that's not a saving from the cloud, that's a comment on past practices", Creese told the live broadcast "G-Cloud and CloudStore - What impact on public sector technology?" Suppliers had jumped on a bandwagon, he said: "You will not find many suppliers now who will be telling you they do not have a cloud service", but only some of these are genuine, he said.

However the hype was now running its course and lower-cost service models are emerging, Creese said. "Behind all that is a genuine opportunity to meet a genuine need to scale up and scale down easily".

Mark Ferrar, national technology officer at Microsoft UK, said that any new IT phenomenon brought new entrants who "jump on the bandwagon", but that the best existing software providers were able to create hybrid solutions combining cloud operations with the same software used locally. "We are offering cloud services already such as Hotmail, and it's the same software that we use on premise. You can put stuff where you need it."

Denise McDonagh, director of ICT for the Home Office and newly appointed programme Lead for the government's own G-Cloud programme, said that the cloud model offered many potential benefits including avoiding supplier lock in; reducing duplication of activity and cost across the public sector; and allowing organisations to obtain the IT they need quickly and flexibly. "It's a completely new way of thinking about how we deliver services."

However, Creese said while it is theoretically easy to start and stop using cloud services, there can still be high costs associated with switching suppliers. "For some cloud services, we will still want a longer term partnership with the supplier potentially, and as such will want a contractual relationship which will be longer than 12 months, so will be looking for a mechanism to do so if we choose to." In this respect, a short-term contract cloud system that forced regular reprocurements on public bodies might actually put some off from using it, he said.

The government has recognised this issue and is working to address it in future phases of the G-Cloud programme, McDonagh said. "I do understand people don't want to reprocure every year for something they know they have - [so I'm] hoping to have just a tick box exercise as an opportunity to extend if the price is still right for you."

Paul Tomlinson, managing director of online public services specialist IEG4, said despite being easier to engage with than traditional public sector procurement processes, the first phase of G-Cloud entry had still been excessively bureaucratic for small businesses like his, which had declined to bid.

"It was a huge document, with loads of acronyms. As an SME, it was hard for us - we couldn't put enough time into working out what to do."

McDonagh acknowledged more needed to be done, and said it would be done in time for phase 2, due "some time in May". "We are trying to make it far simpler for SMEs and suppliers to participate in. We already cut hundreds of pages down to 20 pages, but we still got some of the language wrong."

Another sign that phase 2 of the G-Cloud would be an improvement was the fact that two of the world's largest cloud computing pioneers - Amazon and Salesforce - were "fully expected" to join after declining to bid for phase 1 over legal worries, McDonagh said.

Lawyers for the two corporations had been "spooked" by the G-Cloud's requirement to audit their datacentres, she said, though "since then we've explained the practicalities, and they are much more at ease with what we are asking them to do."

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