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Government still cautious about cloud: Glenn Archer

Glenn Archer, the Australian government CIO, remains cautious about agencies moving to the cloud and said there are still challenges that need to be overcome.

In particular, he said legacy systems are still posing challenges for the federal government departments adopting cloud computing services.

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"Integrating those into [the] cloud is often quite challenging ... We need to think about how we resolve those usual security issues and that's tended to occupy a lot of the discussion," Archer told CIO.

"In reality we feel that there's certainly areas where they are either less relevant or not relevant at all and that's why we've targeted public facing websites and [test] environments."

The focus on public facing websites has been highlighted in the recently released Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy v2.0, which was released in tandem with the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy's national cloud computing strategy.

The updated cloud policy by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) includes the feasibility of a government community cloud in early 2014 and migrating public facing websites to cloud hosting at natural ICT refresh points this year.

But Archer said agencies that have high security needs also have additional challenges for moving to the cloud. In particular, challenges with adopting public cloud.

"[For] their core systems cloud doesn't seem to lend itself [to the public cloud]. That's not to say that agencies that have a particularly high security requirement or challenging privacy issues wouldn't be able to look to use cloud as a private cloud arrangement," he said.

"We anticipate that in due course cloud vendors will probably offer better encryption for their publicly hosted cloud environments and we believe there may come a day when that's adequate to support or provide support for customer information.

"We don't think we're there yet ... we believe it's going to be some time before that's going to be easily achieved."

The government said in its updated cloud policy that citizen information covered by privacy and data protection may not use public clouds for another three to five years. In the meantime, private cloud, hybrid cloud and community cloud are acceptable.

Archer said procurement issues have also been challenging for government agencies.

"I think it'll take us a little while for agencies to get comfortable both with the procurement and contractual management issues [associated] with suppliers," Archer said.

"I guess if I was to make a prediction I think that once they do that the adoption rate will probably rise quite rapidly."

Government cloud adoption so far

The Australian government released its first policy for cloud in April 2011, with the Cloud computing strategic paper setting out details on what cloud is, issues and benefits for government and guidance information for agencies choosing to adopt cloud-based services.

More than two years on and Archer said the adoption of cloud by government hasn't been as fast as he anticipated.

"When we put out our cloud paper back in April 2011 -- in many ways that was an indicator to agencies, as much as it was to the marketplace, that government was not going to try and oppose cloud. Far from it," he said.

"We thought that cloud provided [an] enormous opportunity for government and that there was benefit to be gained, obviously from the cost side but also the degree to which cloud allows you to be quite innovative and responsive.

"[But] in terms of the degree to which agencies look to move to take up cloud, it was slower than I had personally anticipated."

Archer said the issue gained traction when the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard requested the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to develop a cloud strategy in October 2012.

"We certainly saw that request by the Prime Minister as an opportunity for us to work closely with [the department of broadband] to ensure that there was a bit more of an acceleration of the adoption of cloud by government agencies," he said.

The government plans to further analyse the benefits of cloud and the drawbacks of centralising the provision of cloud services by the end of this year.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

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