UK public services will be delivered via a government cloud and app store, with an emphasis on green IT and open source – according to a leaked five-year plan
The UK government is working on a new holistic telecoms strategy which could save the country £3.2 billion over the next ten years, according to a leaked draft of a document entitled Government ICT Strategy: New World, New Challenges, New Opportunities.
The document lays out plans to improve online delivery of public sector services through the use of cloud technology and Web 2.0 processes, over a simplified and standardised infrastructure. It promises to provide multiple services, interoperability and data sharing via a government cloud – or “G-Cloud” – together with a government application store (G-AS). These will enable sharing and reuse of business apps, services and components across the public sector.
The document also talks about setting up a virtualised public sector network, which would allow online services to be delivered to any location, as well as enabling Unified Communications (UC) in terms of voice, video and collaboration capabilities. This would replace the current hotchpotch of public sector networks, which are described as “fragmented, unreliable and expensive”. The document claims that these consolidated services will be delivered over a core network that is “secure, based on open standards, interoperable, energy efficient and competitive”.
As well as consolidation of public services, the document also suggests that the public sector consolidates internal desktop services. The public sector will be provided with a set of common desktop designs, which will conform to sustainability standards, and all suppliers will be required to deliver them at the lowest price available. The desktop design is likely to evolve to converge with the cloud strategy between 2012 and 2015.
The strategy does not overlook the green issue, suggesting that the current base of data centres in use by the public sector should be rationalised and consolidated, in alignment with development of the G-Cloud. In this way the number of data centres in use could be reduced from many hundreds to between 10 and 12. The data centres themselves would become more resilient and secure, reducing costs by £300 million per year and power consumption by up to 75 percent.
The news is likely to be music to the ears of some Green ICT advocates, including Catalina McGregor who has been campaigning – together with the ITU – for IT to be front-and-centre at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The document not only advises that Green ICT principles should be incorporated into all elements of the government’s ICT strategy – including supply chain and procurement strategies – but that Government ICT should be carbon neutral across its lifecycle by 2020.
However, the use of cloud technology and open source software could raise a few eyebrows among those commentators who still consider it a risk to put sensitive information in the hands of third party service providers. A recent report by European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) found that businesses need to thoroughly check the service level agreements offered by cloud computing providers before storing sensitive data in the cloud.
“The business case for cloud computing is obvious – it’s computing on tap, available instantly, commitment-free and on-demand. But the number one issue holding many people back is security – how can I know if it’s safe to trust the cloud provider with my data and in some cases my entire business infrastructure?” said Giles Hogben, an ENISA expert and editor of the report.
Open source software has also been branded a security risk by both the European Commission and General Electric in the last month. “I think open source is great for own internal playground type of things but if it’s running vital mission critical applications – networks running on open source for example – then that is a huge, huge risk to the organisation,” said Peter Gyorgy, chief information officer of GE’s Consumer and Industrial division in Europe.
The UK government already has an open source policy, which states that government will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in making procurement decisions. It hopes that this will enable it to save £600 million a year, but the policy has been criticised for its lack of teeth.
This latest report states that “By 2011, public bodies will store and share records of their approval and use of open source software on the G-Cloud. The government applications stores will hold open source solutions that are available for reuse in the public sector and, by 2015, public bodies will review existing solutions available before going to market for new solutions.”
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office told GC News that the paper, which is still a work in progress, is aimed at positioning the government’s approach to IT for the next five years, and that it hopes to publish the finished version before Christmas.