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Cloud computing in the government

Cloud computing is the order of the day.  The market is now flooded with cloud services.  All major IT service providers are competing to offer the best, fastest, most versatile and most secure cloud services. They are now in great demand.  There are much talks on the mystery of cloud computing.  Simply put, it is just a wider use of the TCP/IP protocol, or in more layman term, the Internet – the cloud.

The Internet has been here for more than twenty years.  In the past, it was not extensively used by serious businesses.  First, connection to the Internet was not reliable; and second, security over leased line was a major concern.  These problems have largely been overcome. Many large corporations, financial institutions and governments are now comfortable in using the cloud as a standard platform for IT services.

The HKSAR Government announced that she would adopt the Cloud Computing model to meet rising public demands and community expectations on e-government services and reap the benefits of emerging technologies.  Actually, the issue has been on the agenda for a long time when the OCGIO set up her own data centres years ago for the storage of data for departments and for acting as central servers for many departmental applications.  The time is now ripe and a full scale introduction of cloud computing is being promoted.

EO as government resource and system managers are required to manage IT projects both for the delivery of departmental services and support services within the department.  Cloud computing represents a new approach to such services.  Thus managers would be impacted first hand with this modern trend.  Lucky to say, the cloud computing model is a way forward and a much easier way from a management point of view.  The major difference between cloud computing and traditional computing is that the majority of equipment and applications are not located on site.

Government announced that she plans to re-provision the central IT facilities and build the Government Cloud environment comprising three service layers: an in-house private Cloud owned and operated by the Government, an outsourced private Cloud with facilities dedicated to the Government in secure data centres operated by contractors, and public Cloud for generic services.  They are used to host applications and data based on the level of sensitivity and confidentiality of the data and information involved.

Managers could look at the change from the organizational perspective.  They have been tasked with the management of IT services, which may entail IT personnel, IT equipment and applications as well as IT security.  OCGIO or the previous ITSD used to undertake the technical work in the past.  Many years ago, OCGIO withdrew from the frontline, leaving departments to handle the technical work themselves.  Instead, IT Management Units were set up in departments.  These units, staffed by OCGIO seconded staff, acted as consultants on IT projects. Actual work was carried out in the departments by contractors.  Departments were required to manage both the IT Management Units and the contractors.  The government consultants, rather than hired consultants who took requests from clients, could dictate projects from the technical rather than the management angle.

The Cloud computing model may change the scenario to our favour.  For private cloud, it could be the data centres operated by OCGIO.  Operation personnel together with the daily chore with the servers will then be the responsibility of the centres.  Some large departments may wish to set up their own private cloud in an out-sourced private data centre at off-site location.  This would be a dedicated technical task usually with strong operational content and run by technicians.  For the public cloud, an IT service provider offering general cloud services to the public may be engaged.  This will be for non-sensitive public information distribution.  In short, if handled well, cloud computing could mean lesser work but stronger control for departmental managers.