The G-Cloud has urged more government bodies to buy into its vision of ensuring half of new public sector IT spend is on cloud-based services by 2015.
Speaking at CRN’s Channel Conference earlier this month, Eleanor Stewart, engagement manager for the public sector cloud services framework, revealed that £2m of invoiced sales have been conducted through the G-Cloud's CloudStore catalogue since it was launched in February.
Business has been in line with expectations, but Stewart conceded that many public sector bodies - particularly large central government departments that operate as their own “fiefdoms” - have so far shunned its services.
“The challenge for the programme is to push on the buying side and get people comfortable with this, because it is a big culture change,” Stewart said. “People are scared of it, frankly.”
G-Cloud was dreamed up last November as an antidote to the culture of long-term contracts with big suppliers that had led to huge wastage in Whitehall and across the public sector.
Some 280 suppliers currently offer 1,700 separate IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and other cloud services through CloudStore, which public sector bodies - as well as private companies - can use to procure services in as little as six minutes, said Stewart. Seventy-four per cent of suppliers, which include the likes of Computacenter, SCC, Trustmarque and Softcat, are SMBs.
The supplier base will rise to about 500 when framework agreements for G-Cloud II are handed out on 26 October, she added.
In response to complaints from public sector customers, the second iteration of the programme allows for contracts of up to 24 months rather than 12; a higher maximum contract value; and has new and improved terms and conditions.
A third iteration will be out before Christmas, Stewart promised, with rolling updates every two months scheduled thereafter.
Stop the wastage
Pre-G-Cloud, about 80 per cent of government IT spend was controlled by an elite band of six IT services giants, Stewart said.
“They were charging quite high rates for simple things, for instance £1,000 to change one word on a form on a website, which is quite excessive,” she explained. “But it was also very difficult to use new technologies, as we were tied into very large contracts which ran for five or seven years.”
She added that the wastage equates to funding for three million secondary school pupils per year, or 62 million overnight stays in a hospital.
G-Cloud was designed to obliterate this culture of profligacy by enabling the government to buy cheaper, short-term cloud services off the peg and engage more with fleet-of-foot SMBs.
But she likened changing the government’s long-standing procurement patterns to “turning a tanker on a two-pence piece”.
“I understand [why people are scared] because it removes the control from the IT or procurement specialist and puts it back on to the deliverer or services manager,” she said. “The service manager is often hitting a barrier when they get to the procurement or IT person. A lot of our effort right now is on unlocking those barriers.”
Many G-Cloud sales so far have concerned new technologies such as collaboration and social media, Stewart revealed, with Huddle among the more successful suppliers.
“Some of the core infrastructure [services] are coming through around hosting,” she added. “We have not seen very many platform-type [services] being sold yet.”
“There has been a lot more usage in local than central government,” she continued. “[This is due to] a combination of big government departments being their own fiefdoms and not wanting to be told what to do, and local government feeling the financial squeeze.”
G-Cloud is also pushing suppliers to gain a pan-government security accreditation for their G-Cloud services, which will allow them to be re-used by different government bodies.
Stewart revealed that just 13 services had achieved this accreditation so far, due to the process’s complexity.
“It has taken longer than we would have liked to get things through but the target is 50 [services] by the end of the year,” she said.
“We have had four people working on it full time but it has taken time to push through.”
She remained tight-lipped on when the next version of the CloudStore catalogue - which has come under fire from some suppliers - will be released.
“The idea is that it develops into something bigger and more integrated so we are working with Govern-ment Procurement Serv-ices to make something better,” she added.
‘G-Cloud has opened government doors'
A web content management vendor that has bagged more than £200,000 of business through the G-Cloud to date has praised the framework for opening up government business to smaller suppliers for the first time.
Squiz UK recently won a £177,000 deal with the University of Hertfordshire through G-Cloud to supply it with a new public-facing website and content management system. This added to a £25,000 deal it scored with HM Land Registry.
Alister Cattell, sales and marketing manager at the Shoreditch-based firm, said G-Cloud is helping to end the era of dominance enjoyed in Whitehall by the likes of Capgemini and Accenture.
"We are the largest supplier of web content management to the Australian government but have found it nigh on impossible to be successful in the UK government," he said. "We expect G-Cloud to become a large part of our income, whereas two years ago, it would have been a hard slog."
But Cattell agreed that it would take time to win over central government procurement staff.
"The challenges are not with G-Cloud but with the procurement departments," he said. "It is hard for G-Cloud to change what is quite a risk-averse and well-established world. Those pushing for government efficiency are up against people whose job it is to make sure things do not go wrong. Look at what happened with [the West Coast Mainline] - that is every procurement department's worst nightmare."
Cattell said his firm's experience with G-Cloud had been "very positive" but the programme was let down a little by glitches in its online presence, CloudStore. "Making browsing easier would improve it," he said.
Has cloud passed its peak?
Despite the government's cloud computing drive, hype surrounding the fluffy style of IT is dying down and it may not be as green as proponents would have you believe, two separate studies have found.
According to Steve Brazier, chief executive of analyst Canalys, the cloud buzz is beginning to subside amid growing recognition that it may be the right move only for options that target consumers, are new, or manage traffic.
"But it makes no sense to take IT that already works and move it into the cloud, just for the sake of it," Brazier said.
Separately, research by WSP Environment & Energy and the Natural Resource Defense Council has found that cloud is not always a more carbon-efficient option than on-premise, despite it commonly being sold on a green agenda.
WSP director David Symons said: "There are many reasons for moving to cloud computing, but a company choosing to do so for pure energy-efficiency reasons needs to look closely at its whole IT set-up as well as those of third-party offerings.
"Not all clouds are created equal. An on-site server room that is run with energy-efficiency best practices may be a greener alternative to a ‘brown cloud'."
The research examined best practice, average and worst-case scenarios for five set-ups: on-premise with no virtualisation; colocation with no virtualisation; on-premise with virtualisation; private cloud; and public cloud.
Running a productivity application generally becomes more efficient as you move through those options, but it will depend on the carbon emission factor of the electricity used by the datacentre, as well as its energy efficiency and the capacity at which it runs.
A typical user of an onsite server with no virtualisation will emit about 46kg of CO2 per year in the worst-case scenario, Symons told CRN. The equivalent figure for a person using a public cloud conforming to best practices is just 2kg.
However, there will be scenarios where public cloud is less energy efficient than on-premise with no virtualisation, said Symons.
"If you are storing data on the public cloud but running on a public cloud provider whose servers are not that efficient, are not well used and use electricity from higher carbon-emitting sources, there could be scenarios where running your own servers is a [greener] option," he said.
G-Cloud business keeps rolling in
Although just £2m of invoiced sales have been conducted via G-Cloud, that figure rises to about £5m if contracted business is included, engagement manager Eleanor Stewart (pictured below) revealed.
G-Cloud recorded £434,000 of invoiced sales in August, compared with £424,000 in July, £471,000 in June, £163,000 in May and £556,000 in April, according to its website. Stewart said she expected volumes to rise swiftly as more big legacy government contracts come to an end.
The G-Cloud recently registered its first major sale of IaaS after the Government Digital Service used the framework to ink a deal with Skyscape for compute and storage-as-a-service.
"This is a large project with some complex infrastructure requirements, so the decision to buy through G-Cloud shows how flexible the framework is and proves that it works for larger purchases as well as some of the smaller tools we have seen bought," said Stewart. "The purchase also shows that government is ready to embrace low-cost utility cloud services and is buying from SMEs."
Stewart added that G-Cloud was on track to ensure 50 per cent of new public sector spend is through the cloud by 2015.
G-Cloud, alongside a separate initiative to review a hosting contract, is designed to save the public sector £340m by 2015, she said. "We are working out how to measure the savings, but it is difficult to compare as a lot of it is new spend," she added.
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