CLOUD COMPUTING, DATA STORAGE AND VIRTUALIZATION IN PUBLIC SECTOR

Posted: October 23, 2012 by Afyanet Africa in Medical News, Product Development (IT)
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ImageCloud computing has evolved through various phases; Grid and Utility Computing, Application Service Provision, and Software as a Service. Since the sixties, it has gradually developed, with Web 2.0 being the most recent evolution. To date, Cloud Computing has been the preserve of early adopters from leading technology giants such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute cloud EC2/S3, Microsoft’s Windows Azure and Google’s Google Apps. The knock-on effect to the industry as a whole is a wider general acceptance of online services.

Under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, public sector institutions in East Africa have a chance of slowly adopting Cloud Computing services as a way to cut costs and make their systems run more efficiently. Alliance Technologies has implemented Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions in major public sector institutions in the region, and one thing that stands out is the similarity of process and workflows in departments like Human Resource, Finance, Procurement and Support Services (Public Relations, Audit Legal, and Customer Relationship). This makes public sector institutions clear candidates for shared services applications offered on the cloud with shared data storage & virtualization.

On average each Ministry has five major Parastatals and/or state co-operations with almost similar mandates. In the past two years we have seen a surge in the automation of processes within public institutions, which is good. However, this has resulted in heavy investments in ICT infrastructure set up, hiring of highly trained IT personnel, implementation of highly complex software application, prohibitive proprietary license costs, not forgetting support & maintenance costs over the entire lifecycle of the software. The pressure to automate in order to be ISO certified or as fulfillment of the CEO’s Performance contract has resulted in hurried implementations which have led to acquisition of enterprise solutions with high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This diverts funds away from core mandates aligned to the respective state corporations.

Utilizing the cloud computing PPP model, the public sector bodies subcontract this ‘IT headache’ to the private sector giving them room and additional resources to focus on their core mandate of service delivery to the public. The government remains involved; acting as an oversight body due to the sensitivity of its transactions. Privacy, Security and Standardization still remain the main hindrances to adoption of computing in the cloud and only the government can reign-in to keep Law and Order.

 How will this happen?

Virtualization is the key to cloud computing, since it is the enabling technology allowing for the creation of an intelligent abstraction layer which hides the complexity of underlying hardware or software. In a PPP model the private sector will handle virtualization as they have the time, skill and dedication to make it happen.

Server virtualization enables different operating systems to share the same hardware making it easy to move operating systems between different hardware, while applications are running. Storage virtualization does the same thing for data. Storage virtualization creates the abstraction layer between applications running on servers, and the data storage. This means that, a parent ministry can have one vendor implement an ERP solution with majority of the workflows standardized then have all state corporations under it access it and store data seamlessly.

However, this does not mean all processes and work flows will be standard for all institutions. Customization is still possible and each organization still retains its autonomy especially in the way it accesses the system.  This presents interesting ways for the public sector to reduce its costs by paying minimal subscription costs that will cover customization, training and support of the application use. The private sector has a role in making Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) in public sector organizations feel more confident knowing that their data is encrypted and secure from loss or prying eyes.

On the other hand, public sector CIO’s are bound to face resistance from their IT managers and CEO’s who might see a partnership with private sector as invasion to their territory. Security is the main concern–and excuse–in government computing. One can expect public bodies, large and small to claim that their needs are so special that cloud computing cannot apply to them. A government culture that rules that its computing needs are different from other businesses is so entrenched and is used to riding out changes that seem to threaten their position.

I challenge our respective regional Ministries of Information and communication; and ICT Boards to spear head this transition to cloud computing and set up standards and policies that will protect both public and private institution while in the ‘cloud’. Obama administration is one step ahead by embracing Google Apps.gov cloud initiative that will save money and make applications easier for federal agencies to purchase, and YES we CAN here too!!

Author:

KAMAU TIRUS: Heads the Innovation Arm of Alliance Technologies and is responsible for driving and providing Leadership for the Research & Development (R&D) team. EMAIL: wtirus@gmail.com

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