Illustration: Karl Hilzinger.
FEDERAL, state and territory government agencies will have access to an online catalogue of cloud and "cloud-like" services as early as October as part of an approved vendors list being compiled by the Australian Government Information Management Office.
In its "Cloud Computing Strategic Direction Paper" released in April, 2011, AGIMO said it would investigate a ''storefront'', or a centralised catalogue for agencies to choose from pending the outcome of a parallel data centre strategy.
AGIMO first assistant secretary and the man tasked with driving the cloud strategy, Scott Wallace, said all cloud computing-related services on offer to government agencies would be absorbed by the catalogue, which has 978 listings.
A further storefront, originally scheduled for investigation in December 2012, is expected to be evaluated at an unspecified date in future as the catalogue known in government circles as multi-use list (MUL) evolves.
Several other nations have already announced intentions to adopt cloud computing in some way, including New Zealand, Singapore, Britain, the US and Hong Kong.
While noting the benefits of cloud service delivery models, Mr Wallace said the Australian government's policy is that agencies may "choose cloud-based services where they are fit for purpose, demonstrate value for money, and provide adequate information security".
The Australian government's approach to cloud computing has been criticised with representatives of AGIMO publicly acknowledging that it may not be "progressing as fast as some would prefer".
IDC cloud computing Asia Pacific head and an adviser to the New Zealand government, Chris Morris, is supportive of AGIMO's case-by-case approach to cloud adoption.
"Whether government should be actively pushing the cloud model or not is entirely down to a case-by-case situation and the chief information officer's assessment of the services within normal sourcing due diligence process," Mr Morris said.
"In some cases … a well-managed on-premises solution can be just as good and cost-effective as a cloud-sourced solution."
IT analyst firm Ovum's Asia Pacific research director, Dr Steve Hodgkinson, recently claimed Australia's "stance is formally 'cloud neutral' but, in practice, is 'cloud last'."
Mr Hodgkinson advocates a "cloud first" approach similar to that espoused by former US government chief information officer Vivek Kundra and more recently New Zealand's Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain who said "all agencies will be expected to take a 'cloud first' approach when making procurement decisions".
However, he later admitted "cloud when we, and it, are ready" was a better approach for government agencies.
Mr Morris said given the right pricing, standardisation of tools and the fostering of vendor partner ecosystems that government CIOs can take advantage of, smaller agencies would benefit from cloud-delivery models.
"If you look at the early examples for New Zealand they are having initial difficulties on-boarding with the smaller agencies because not unnaturally Revera, IBM and Datacom [the three companies chosen to provide IaaS to New Zealand government agencies] all want to get their money back as quickly as possible," he said.
"So the service quality and associated pricing on the services is quite high for a small agency but probably acceptable for a large agency.
"It is something of a turn off for small agencies and general feedback is that they are giving them a BMW solution when they want a Hyundai."
Whilst AGIMO is the agency responsible for setting the cloud procurement strategy and is typically on the receiving end of cloud and IT-related criticisms, it must operate within the constraints of the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF), the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines, and the Information Security Manual (ISM) - all of which are generated and maintained by other agencies, including the Defence Signals Directorate.
The Australian Government has adopted the US Government's National Institute of Standards and Technology definition of cloud computing and established the Cloud Information Community in early 2011.
The latter comprises around 80 representatives from Commonwealth Government agencies, state governments and the New Zealand Government.
Mr Wallace said although it met regularly ''to share experiences and knowledge in effective use of cloud" and AGIMO can provide examples of government cloud usage - such as data.gov.au being hosted in a public cloud - it does not have a register of those agencies that have already used some form of cloud service, whether this be public, private or hybrid.