Amazon And Google Denied G-Cloud Entry ‘As Clouds Not Government Ready’

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Exclusive: We find that AWS and Google are keen for G-Cloud but can’t get on it

Both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google were keen to get on the framework for the second iteration of the government’s G-Cloud platform, but were ultimately denied, TechWeekEurope has learned.

It had been unclear whether Amazon and Google simply didn’t want a piece of the G-Cloud pie or whether they were shunned by the government. The suppliers may also have been unimpressed by the terms offered by the G-Cloud.

But a Freedom of Information (FOI) request lodged by TechWeekEurope with the Cabinet Office has revealed that of the 662 expressions of interest received for G-Cloud ii, the cloud giants put in two of them. They were not included in the 458 suppliers who made it onto the framework, however.

None of the parties, from AWS to Google to the government itself, have explained why those two behemoths of the industry did not make it onto the framework. When AWS missed out on the first round in April, the head of the G-Cloud, Denise McDonagh, said Amazon had concerns over the stipulation that the UK government could audit US data centres.

Little has emerged on why the company missed out again, whilst no comment has been issued on Google’s situation.

But despite reticence from those involved, one onlooker believes that Amazon and Google missed out as their cloud infrastructure was not “ready” for government use.

G-Cloud grumps

Google only offered some rehashed comment, noting that it was “looking forward to working with our resellers to provide a product offering that meets the government’s needs.” It wouldn’t say whether it was going to try to get on the G-Cloud iii framework, or if it was happy sticking with a channel-based strategy.

An AWS spokesperson said the company was looking to get involved with G-Cloud in the future. “The worldwide public sector is an important and fast growing customer segment for Amazon Web Services and we continue to help local and central governments around the world develop their cloud strategies,” he said.

“We currently work with public sector departments in the UK and work through a strong partner ecosystem to provide Amazon Web Services to the UK government outside of the G-Cloud programme. We look forward to watching the G-Cloud programme evolve and working with the UK government on the upcoming round of the bidding process.”

As for the Cabinet Office, it said it was “continuing to work closely with all potential suppliers wishing to apply for the next G-Cloud framework”. The G-Cloud team recently asked for industry comment on a revised copy of the framework agreement.

But the CEO of one firm that is in the G-Cloud programme says Amazon and Google are simply not ready. Alastair Mitchell, head of cloud collaboration company Huddle, said one of the biggest obstacles for the web giants was their lack of UK-based data centres, along with a dearth of assurance on whether data would be backed up on other shores.

“Governments, and an increasing number of large corporates, are increasingly concerned that as they get increasingly savvy about the cloud, they realise the different nuances of the cloud and where you host your data and especially data sovereignty,” Mitchell told TechWeekEurope.

He said that US-based vendors, like Amazon and Google, had made inroads with the US government, but had not made an impact here. Amazon, for instance, has established a dedicated government cloud in the US, but does not have one here.

“But even in their home territory where their content is stored it has taken them quite a while [to convince governments to use their cloud services]. And it takes them even longer when they talk about other countries,” Mitchell said. Cloud © geometrix Shutterstock 2012

“When you talk about governments or very sophisticated corporates like banks, they have pretty complex requirements about how your information is stored and the security around it. It starts with where the data is hosted – and even that is complex because it is not just where your data is but where it is backed up to.

“Many of these cloud services store initial data in Europe but then back it up to somewhere where the laws are different and you can’t do that.

“Then there’s the service development, the terms and conditions… that’s where a lot of the big US corporates have struggled because they haven’t been able to provide a service that meets the needs of more sophisticated clients. The classic example of that is the UK government.”

A lot of big cloud players can’t provide a service that is “government ready”, he added. Mitchell also claimed that Amazon and Google had been hampered in their government efforts as they focused on consumer services, not enterprise offerings. Companies that don’t create an enterprise product from the ground up “really struggle as they haven’t thought about business from day one,” he said. “You’ve got a whole service designed for consumers who don’t really care about security.”

From the provider perspective, they will also have concerns about whether their data will be accessed by the UK government. When balanced with the potential for business on these shores, sovereignty over their own data may come out on top and convince them not to bid for business in the UK.

Google said it had no comment on Mitchell’s assertions that its cloud was not ready for government use. However, this week it did announce that customers using Google App Engine, Google Cloud Storage, Google Cloud SQL and soon Google Compute Engine would be able to run those services through European data centres. It did not say where those data centres were located, however, nor did Google offer any information on where information was backed up.

Amazon simply pointed this publication to a recent announcement, in which it claimed over 300 government agencies and 1,500 education bodies globally  are now using AWS.

It has been reported the government is keen to get Amazon on board and it is now expected to appear on the G-Cloud iii framework. AWS benefits from having an Irish data centre hub – something that Microsoft, which has won around £100,000 in G-Cloud contracts so far, can also lay claim to. Both have data centres across Europe too.

That does not mean UK government bodies will be actively using AWS anytime soon. In a somewhat backwards process, accreditation for the G-Cloud framework is granted before the government does checks to see what kinds of data can be used on different clouds.

London-based Huddle, at the other end of the scale, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the G-Cloud to date, since the CloudStore procurement platform was switched on earlier this year. In June, it was revealed the company had secured 89 percent of the £453,778.38 spent over the first two months of G-Cloud’s existence.

G-Cloud spend

The FOI request also asked for information on how much government funding the G-Cloud had received. The G-Cloud has a budget of £400,000 for the 2011/2012 year, of which just £58,260 had been spent so far. The Cabinet Office had not explained where the money had gone at the time of publication.

That would indicate either that cloud is a cheap, effective way for the government to procure services, or that the government is not as serious about setting up major cloud projects as it purports to be.

In May, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the estimated cost for the G-Cloud programme is around £4.93 million, whilst estimated savings stand at £340 million.

Citizens can see what money has been spent through the G-Cloud here.

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