Federal Government Cloud – Innovation Nation Supercomputer

NERSC Franklin Cray XT4s - supercomputer cluster

Image by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory via Flickr

One of the headline ‘R&D Working Groups‘ we’re starting up as part of our Canadian Cloud Best Practices program is ‘Federal Government Cloud’.

As the name suggests this is a best practices program that will define how a Federal Government can implement a Cloud Computing strategy. This will act as a unifying project, we’ll be basing this on Canadian activities and it will also be the headline theme for the launch of our USA Chapter too.

The critical point this program will define is the role this platform can play in stimulating the economy and driving economic growth.

Shared Services Community Cloud

This program provides an ideal mechanism for unifying Cloud Best Practice programs, as I’ve found that while many governments are active in this area, each comes at it from a slightly different strategy and with different strengths. How they might all be combined into one overall program is the opportunity.

For example the Canadian Federal Government defined their Cloud Roadmap plan, the GC Community Cloud, which plans out how they might operate their myriad of enterprise applications like OpenText, Oracle and Microsoft from a shared, multi-tenant Cloud environment.

It also articulates best practices for ‘Cloud Security Zones‘, how to secure this environment in line with their required standards, and which identifies key technical capabilities like synchronizing the on-site user directory system (eg. ActiveDirectory) with those in Cloud providers, who might be running Oracle.

Therefore how these might be combined with related technology initiatives is a hot focus area, like the USA’s ‘Trusted Identities in Cyberspace‘, so that Identity authentication systems across internal and Cloud environments become increasingly interconnected, streamlining the online experience greatly for users.

A common and core theme is the role a Cloud environment can play in implementing a Shared Services initiative. Recently the Canadian Federal Government announced the Shared Services department initiative, seeking to drive considerable cost savings by consolidating multiple, duplicated email and network systems to just one.

This provides the ideal context for the business value of Cloud Computing, which fundamentally is a technology for shared services, for enabling multiple organizations to share one common IT infrastructure in a manner that reduces costs for them all.

How Cloud Computing can enable the Shared Services transformation is described in this white paper I wrote last month.

The UK’s G-Cloud program went through some identify issues as one government replaced another, but irrespective of the name it described the same vision. As Andy MacLeod from Cisco explained on our webinar a few months back (18-page PDF), this also articulated a technical architecture for running email, VoIP and ERP as a Cloud-based shared service, via an ‘Apps Store’ model.

This described a ‘Shared World’, a ‘Web World’ and more, and critically describes the changes to the procurement models governments will implement.

Procurement Commercialization – Buying “Innovation Futures”

This focus on procurement is key, it helps explain the broader scale of organizational change that Cloud represents, above and beyond the technology.

Indeed as per the title of this article, while the technological evolution is quite breathtaking, really the most important factor of the Cloud wave to focus on is the opportunity it presents for economic development.

At a time when Government economy stimulus shock therapy programs have failed to revive the patient, it’s critical we dig deeper into the mode of working smarter to achieve some real progress in this area. Cloud is a key area because it represents the most current market opportunity that can be fuelled directly by government procurement.

The headline theme of our Canadian Cloud Council is this dimension, our goal is to make Canada a world leader in the global Cloud industry, as a means of turning around their notorious poor innovation performance, and this can act as a general engine for powering economic growth overall.

Governments have applied various shock therapy programs to the corpse of our economies but as of yet it’s still looking pretty lifeless, so it’s clear some form of new ideas are needed.

This opportunity to utilize existing government procurement as one source for this has been nailed on the head by the recent Innovation Canada report findings. Recommendation 3 says:

“Make business innovation one of the core objectives of procurement, with the supporting initiatives to achieve this objective.”

They describe how public sector procurement and related programming should be used to create opportunity and demand for leading-edge goods, services and technologies from Canadian suppliers, fostering the development of innovative and globally competitive Canadian companies while also stimulating innovation and greater productivity in the delivery of public sector goods and services.

Bingo! As this Backbone article on Canada’s state as a Digital Nation highlights, the most revealing statistic is that Canada ranks 26th out of 139 economies for government procurement of advanced technology products.

Canada spends multiple billions of dollars on all kinds of suppliers but isn’t doing so as smart as they might, to better deploy this capital to drive innovation; hence their lagging stats in related performance areas.

Again we can look to available global best practices as the remedy. For example in the UK they’ve been pioneering ‘Forward Commitment Procurement‘, a technique for stimulating innovation through procurement, and through organizations like the Technology Strategy Board have been applying this in the key areas described in this article. For example they funded projects to establish trusted identities infrastructure.

With the USA also pioneering these areas, indeed now even making their adoption mandatory, these are hyper-growth markets that can be leveraged to create startups with huge potential.

I describe this as ‘Procurement Commercialization’, and describe it in more detail in this Cloud CIO special publication for IT World Canada. (Page 7 – The Network Effect).

Canada is well positioned to implement these practices. For example the ‘Cloud Security Zones‘ document introduced earlier provides a set of specifications for secure Cloud environments that can not only be employed internally by the Governments own IT teams, but also as they describe:

“This architecture is considered essential to the successful deployment and certification of the GC Community Cloud. The proposed standard and guidelines contained in this document should be transposable to the use of similar shared services offered through a public cloud provider under contract to the GC.”

Innovation Nation Supercomputer

Additionally there is the broader perspective of the role Cloud technology can play in supporting the public wholesale in becoming more entrepreneurial and enhancing the overall innovation capacity of a nation, a term often described as ‘Innovation Nation’, such as the UK program. Or Startup America.

As we explore this link we can start to imagine the potential for a Federal Government Cloud, that it can offer far more than just another box of IT to run applications slightly cheaper, but as an innovation-enabling platform that can entirely transform society as a whole.

Most notably it can enable more entrepreneurs to start more businesses. Fundamentally the most important characteristic of Cloud is that it enables new innovative models more quickly and easily, it lowers the cost to entrepreneurism as the next Facebook could be launched for a fraction of what the original cost.

As Cisco’s Andy MacLeod describes in his presentation, the Shared Services Cloud can also include a ‘SME World’, where the same Cloud platform is also used to provide IT capacity to small startup businesses.

In short this is a compelling vision of Innovation process being available as a free public utility.

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