Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  17 Dec 2010

INFOTECH: Is the Sky the Limit with Cloud Computing?


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Government is no longer excluded from the daily, run-of-the-mill technology challenges the business world faces. Indeed, worldwide it has evolved into a major enterprise with the public as its customers, which in turn enables one to draw valid parallels between business and the benefits technology brings to the optimisation of services.

One such technology is cloud computing, a mature and much-talked-about solution that already offers numerous and tangible benefits to companies of all sizes, be it ease-of-management, cost-savings or simply the peace of mind that your valuable company data is looked after effectively and expertly.

However, in order to understand the relevance and subsequent benefits of cloud computing in the government context one should first take a few steps back and consider that there are unique challenges faced by the public sector today.

The first is Government’s mandate to deliver services to its customers, the people of its country. Whilst it can be described as a somewhat generic challenge across all departments, the reality is it is critical function that has to perform optimally on a 24x7, 365 basis.

When one brings this back to the cloud computing model, it begs the question, can the service provide real and tangible benefits to the service-delivery model of Government? Are there services that will in fact benefit from an outsourced approach to IT software and application delivery?

The SA governmental cloud scenario

On its road cloud computing, Government has to reassess its procurement model and ownership of assets which is by no means unique to our country. In a recent blog, posted by Gartner Research - A new perspective of Cloud Computing in Government, ownership of assets is cited as one of the main challenges faced by governments in adopting a cloud-based service.

Currently, most of Government’s departments own their IT assets- be it hardware or software; it is an entrenched model and there will have to be willingness to change it to more commercial approach that relinquishes some of the traditional ownership roles.

Furthermore, procurement processes are aligned with legislative requirements – this prescribed criteria will have to be built into a government-centric cloud Computing model. The same goes for BEE responsibility as well as social and governance requirements that form critical parts of the overall South African economic posture.

Additionally, the majority of IT procurement and subsequent delivery is currently run by SITA (South African Information Technology Agency). As a cloud-based service provider it is therefore important to familiarise yourself with the agency’s procurement requirements and processes.

Cloud computing propagates an easy-to-use, on-the-fly mantra, whether it is buying capacity or hosting. Currently Government’s IT model is not geared towards this approach.

Lastly, but more importantly, is security and the safeguard of Government’s all-important valuable ‘client’ information. Despite the maturity of technology, the security of cloud services remains a contentious issue. To succeed in providing a feasible cloud computing offering, security should be at the top of the list, ensuring that the safety of data does not come into question.

But what cloud?

Cloud computing today is represented by three, somewhat distinct, models: Public, Private and Hybrid.

The public cloud, revolutionised by service providers such as Google and Amazon hailed a new era of outsourcing non-core business functions. It has, throughout its evolution, been particularly attractive to SMEs – providing an easy and convenient service that takes the pains out of managing and storing business data.

The private cloud on the other hand caters to the needs of larger organisations; in essence it is form of service where access is limited or the customer has some control and, in some instances, ownership of the service implementation. It provides economies of scale to organisation while ensuring that controls still remain within the business.

Hybrid Cloud Computing is effectively an environment in which an organisation provides and manages some resources in-house and has others provided externally. Ideally, the hybrid approach allows a business to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness that a public cloud computing environment offers without exposing mission-critical applications and data to third-party vulnerabilities.

What government should consider

As mentioned, legislatively Government has a lot to consider when opting for the cloud; understanding the legal requirements is critical. Are regulatory restrictions not being contravened particularly when it comes to the safety of data? Here, the corporate governance guidelines particularly around risk management and accountability, as stipulated by King III, come into play.

Secondly, Government should know exactly what its needs are; does it simply want to archive information or does it require different services for numerous environments and departments? Also, does social networking come into play; is this an additional service that should be added to the cloud or again legislatively are there restrictions?

Ultimately, the use of cloud computing within a governmental context will be dictated by its ability to determine what cloud computing services it requires, and whether it is secure and meet the necessary legal requirements.


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