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Cloud Government IT

UK Government Ditches Cloud Concept, Consolidates Data Centers 97

Posted by Roblimo
from the the-cloud-is-not-always-a-good-idea dept.
twoheadedboy writes "HP's UK managing director says the Government has ditched its cloud computing project. A brainchild of the Labour Government and announced last year, the G-Cloud (Government Cloud) was supposed to bring significant savings. The HP guy says the government now has other ideas about how to save money on IT."
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UK Government Ditches Cloud Concept, Consolidates Data Centers

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  • Seems like the UK government has been building castles in the sky, maybe?

  • Saving money (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A great way to save money would be to stop cancelling projects a year after they are initiated in favour of yet another thing you'll probably ditch in a few years.
    • What would the civil servants in charge of procurement do then? They'd be out of a job and we can't have that!

      • Well, divide them into two groups: Group 1 continues to come up with new ideas all the time, but it's now group 2's job to find out why those ideas are stupid and shouldn't be done. Keeps them busy, but avoids having to half-implement every half-baked idea.

    • The problem with governments is that they are failure based.
      It is what you do wrong that gets you in trouble. vs. what you do right that gets you recognition. And combine it with politics means for any project it is operated in a method to prevent failure (dumping a project isn't failure it is avoiding failure) and there is opposition political forces trying to get the project to fail, meaning any idea no matter how good will be under a lot of pressure and its chance for success is quite limited.

      Now a fail

  • A bunch if Bureaucrats realized their budgets would shrink an astonishing amount if they go to the "cloud" - so they opt for "consolidation" which will never happen because everyone in charge of their little fiefdoms won't give up power (and money)
    • by Dan667 (564390)
      or they realized there was lots of risk with the cloud and they did not want their resources to disappear and have little way to get them back on line other than yelling at a vendor. If anything the Amazon EC2 outage showed is that you should have a backup or a local resource for when the cloud fails. If you have to do that anyway then it is not as good as people are trying to make it out to be and the same or more work.
      • by Pieroxy (222434)

        or they realized there was lots of risk with the cloud and they did not want their resources to disappear and have little way to get them back on line other than yelling at a vendor.

        Nobody realizes that yet. NOBODY. At least, nobody in a position where these decisions are made. It's a scary fact, true, but sadly true.

        If anything the Amazon EC2 outage showed is that you should have a backup or a local resource for when the cloud fails. If you have to do that anyway then it is not as good as people are trying to make it out to be and the same or more work.

        The problem being that the people that makes these decisions have absolutely no clue what a computer is. They don't realize that a server is basically the same thing that lies on their desktop and they watch youtube on - if a little more beefy. They don't know squat. They just know that Amazon will look good (or bad) in the press for the next election.

        They don't give a rat

        • I thought that Amazon would be more reliable than even a system that I was maintaining myself, until that outage. They must have multiple engineers, redundant servers and connections, insane amounts of bandwidth, etc.. it's weird that it would go down at all when you have that much money and resources to throw at it, barring someone hacking the system.

          • by jimicus (737525)

            Not necessarily, for a very simple reason.

            The bigger a system is, the more complicated it gets, the more places there are for things to go wrong. And when they go wrong... oh boy.

            It doesn't get a great deal bigger or more complicated than Amazon's EC2. Presenting an entire datacentre to the enduser as a big unified blob of computer power you can spin up virtual machines in is distinctly non-trivial.

          • by burne (686114)

            I thought that Amazon would be more reliable than even a system that I was maintaining myself, until that outage.

            You've missed one detail. Amazon delivers the 'tools' (calling it hardware seems somehow wrong) to build a resiliant and scalable application. But it's up to you to build that system. And most people/companies get it wrong.

            Netflix is using Amazon as well. Much of their normal operations take place in the datacenter which suffered first and most. Netflix was mostly unaffected by the outage. (http://techblog.netflix.com/2011/04/lessons-netflix-learned-from-aws-outage.html)

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            I thought that Amazon would be more reliable than even a system that I was maintaining myself, until that outage. They must have multiple engineers, redundant servers and connections, insane amounts of bandwidth, etc.. it's weird that it would go down at all when you have that much money and resources to throw at it, barring someone hacking the system.

            Of course, Amazon's cloud is more reliable than what most small companies are able to put together.

            A car accident that takes out the utility pole or transformer outside of their building can result in a longer outage that what Amazon experienced. (trust me, I know - a small office complex I once worked at had the power down for 72 hours to replace a large transformer that was clipped by a piece of construction equipment, causing some spectacular sparks and blown fuses somewhere in the 10,000 volt feeder.

          • by Xibby (232218)

            My understanding is the customers impacted by the Amazon outage weren't paying the higher price to have their data spread across multiple data centers. It was a decision made by Amazon's customers, and they chose to take the risk and go with the lower priced service, or their customers didn't understand the risk they were taking.

        • How many of those companies if they were to host them locally would have lost all their data without it... Many Small companies IT policies are Server under the desk, covered with dust and dirt, and used by the person sitting at the desk as their own workstation where they browse with IE 6 on questionable sites.
          What Amazon did was stupid. They should have had a better backup solution. But I will keep saying what I have always said.

          MAKE AND READ THE CONTRACT IF YOUR BUSINESS IMPORTANT INFORMATION GOES ON AN

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        If thats their reason, then its all FUD....
        Everything is already outsourced to various providers, all they can currently do is yell at a vendor when things break. They are dependent on all manner of single source hosting providers, consultants and software developers.

  • In other words, the government has no clue what it is doing, except that it has a budget it needs to spend to justify its existence.

    This is why people don't have any faith on our government. They haven't even had a chance to deploy "the cloud" project fully until they change to the next great thing, which won't be fully deployed before it gets yanked for some other "new" technology fad that comes along.

    The worst part, we can't fire these idiots.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      The worst part, we can't fire these idiots.

      Sure you can. But it will take blood.

    • Reading the story, it seems that the problem was that they *did* fire the idiots. Or at least, the British people did what they were supposed to do when they're dissatisfied with things.

      G-Cloud was a Labour initiative. When the Conservatives got hold of the government, and decided to implement their (disastrous) austerity program, they started cutting budgets left and right. Which is a shame, because they're cutting off funding for a program that might have brought huge efficiencies down the line.

  • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Thursday June 02, 2011 @11:15AM (#36320678) Homepage Journal

    An organization as big as a national government should have its own IT department. Using cloud services basically means you're outsourcing your IT to the company providing the cloud services. For a government, this is not a good idea. They store all sorts of sensitive information about their citizens, to which the cloud provider would ultimately have access (and Dropbox proves this happens regardless of what they say, as for a large part they need it to diagnose issues with their service). Mission critical applications, of which a government would have at least a few, would also have a single point of failure if hosted on a cloud provider.

    Ultimately it's about short term cost savings versus long term problems. A government should be thinking long term pretty much all the time.

    • by mnrasul (1677458)
      I agree in principal, but any savings they might gain by having their own department is easily lost by inefficiencies which inevitably creep in any government service, hence things would be run more efficiently if they used a private corporation who actually has to compete with others. just my opinion.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The problem is that those corporations end up lobbying that very same government and don't actually end up competing in a truly free market.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          The problem is that those corporations end up lobbying that very same government and don't actually end up competing in a truly free market.

          The problem is that government bureaucrats are spending other people's money, so they have no incentive to make good decisions and good incentives to make bad decisions ('but we only provide crappy service because you don't give us a large enough budget, give us more money and it will all be wonderful'). Nothing will change that.

      • by Zediker (885207)
        While that may be true in the short term, it doenst always work out that way. Check out the horrible stories surrounding the commercializationof the Marine's Intranet
      • The government should own the infrastructure, and a private company should run it, with a clause that the private company has to turn the keys over at anytime if they feel to meet their performance targets.

        • the private company has to turn the keys over at anytime if they feel to meet their performance targets.

          Indeed, sexual misconduct to further your career is cheating.

        • Bingo. A unified infrastructure would make everybody able to compete. And we'd finally try that fabled capitalism :D

        • feel = fail. Too early in the morning when I banging out that comment (no pun intended).

        • by Bert64 (520050)

          Thats how things start out..
          Then you get corruption, which results in the performance targets being lowered to accommodate powerful vendors, and additional arbitrary requirements being added to ensure smaller vendors cannot bid for the contracts.
          Private corporations by their very nature are ruthless beasts, give them any slack and they will abuse it.

      • I agree in principal, but any savings they might gain by having their own department is easily lost by inefficiencies which inevitably creep in any government service, hence things would be run more efficiently if they used a private corporation who actually has to compete with others. just my opinion.

        That competition only lasts until the company is entrenched- that is, once they've set up infrastructure and established themselves of the gatekeeper. From that point forward it becomes more efficient to pay their rising prices than to pay the price of establishing a new infrastructure - only to go through the same thing in a couple of years with a new provider.

      • The UK uses plenty of private corporations who promise what they can't possibly deliver and end up costing the UK taxpayer a great deal more than an internal IT department would. Fujitsu Siemens, Capita, EDS, IBM and many others have costly failures against their names on UK government projects. The trouble is, when they're all shit, and have no incentive to improve, then the private sector might as well be the public sector.

        • Totally agree - with the budgets concerned, we could easily fund a development team large enough to meet the needs - and with no incentive to talk bullshit to make a sale.

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Government services may well develop inefficiencies because the people running them don't particularly care about efficiency as it doesn't affect their pay packet. But that's not to say that private companies do any better...
        Sure there is more of a drive to improve efficiency, but only in so far as it increases profit. Another far more common way to increase profit is to cut corners.
        Also there is not always a level of competition, if a private company can eliminate the competition then they will rapidly inc

    • by Zediker (885207)
      Correct, the concepts of cloud computing are about removing the need to maintain personal infrastructure, platforms, or software locally, and using what has already been built. If an organization builds a "cloud" datacenter (a.k.a. private cloud [which is a horrible term]), they get none of the long term infrastructure / platform benefits and only gain some of the software benefits due to still having to maintain a workable platform on an internal infrastructure. Sure, software may be easier to build, to a
      • by Zediker (885207)
        Also, when you would create one of these datacenters, you're essentially just consolidating all your datacenters anyway, so it appears they realized they wont need all the other junk anyway, and just did this instead.
        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          When you switch to a "cloud", you consolidate management. When you consolidate data centers, you just end up with all of your duplicate machines in the same place.

          A cloud might run across multiple data centers, but still only use as much hardware is needed at the time. If 50% of the cloud is unused at the time, then (less than) 50% can be shut down to cut expenses. Running jobs can be switched to underutilized machines, improving efficiency. Without a centralized management, no government agency would ever

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @11:28AM (#36320888) Homepage

      It's entirely possible to have an internal cloud. The Government Cloud Department could be charged with managing all processing resources, availability, data storage, etc. as needed. The road-managing people need to run a simulation for a new traffic light's effects? Ask the GCD for a half-dozen CPUs for 6 hours. The bean counters need to count many hills of beans? Ask for 1000 CPUs for 2 hours. Don't know how long something will take? Send in the job anyway, and you'll get a call when it's done. From the perspective of all the other departments, they're dealing with this nebulous system that just does what they need.

      Having one single Cloud Department means idle servers can be eliminated, redundant employees can be cut, and redundant mistakes aren't as likely to be made. Yes, security's still an issue, but not something that can't be resolved with the liberal application of encryption and security checks.

      • ...redundant employees can be cut...

        Better yet, relocate redundant employees so the bureaucracy engine gets more meat fuel and stuff gets done faster.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)
          Please do not transfer the ex-admin to work the phones at the IRS. That will not end well for anybody.
          • by magarity (164372)

            Please do not transfer the ex-admin to work the phones at the IRS. That will not end well for anybody.

            I'd rather talk to an ex-systems admin than the people they have answering their phones now.

      • It's entirely possible to have an internal cloud

        Further demonstrating just how meaningless the term "cloud computing" really is. What you described is exactly the setup my university has for the research clusters, which have been around since before "cloud" was associated with "computers."

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          It's meaningless in the same way that "steam" is meaningless in "steam engine".

          Back in the good ol' days, the universities had a small group of people qualified to operate the million-dollar computers. It was assumed that there would be no expensive redundancy. Now, anybody with a spare computer can set up a "server", so there's a need to distinguish centrally-managed systems as being different than the norm.

          I doubt very much that all research is done on those research clusters. It's far more likely that so

        • by Patch86 (1465427)

          And "desktop" is just another way of saying "icon based GUI metaphor", and "mouse" is just another name for "hand-operated top-down trackball input device".

          Giving computer things fluffy consumer-friendly names is par for the course. "Cloud" rolls off the tongue (and off the TV advert) easier than "network-based distributed computing". In a few decades it will either have faded into non-existence or become an inoffensive part of the lexicon.

      • by TheSpoom (715771)

        Yeah, I don't have a problem with virtualization, but I don't think that's what this article described. I just think that they should avoid using something like, say, EC2 for important or sensitive business.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Didn't we already come up with a name for mainframes? Like "mainframe"?

    • If only it were true (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mathinker (909784) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @11:31AM (#36320918) Journal

      > A government should be thinking long term pretty much all the time.

      So this means they should review all of their procurement policies which

      • lock them into using a single vendor, and
      • cause them to create documents in formats which only a single vendor can reliably read (and even that without any guarantee that newer versions of software from that vendor will display the document exactly like the version used to create it).

      It seems to me that thinking long term should give a great advantage to the idea of using open source and a document format like ODF.

      Unfortunately, there's the other side of the long term. If governments go FOSS, over the long term the politicians will get a lot less payback from lobbyists, no?

      • by Zediker (885207)
        Governments can and do go open source; when they can and it makes sense. Governments cannot always go open source due to ownership, security, responsibility, reaction time, etc.

        Additionally, It is very hard to push the onus of an issue onto a foundation, it is much easier however, to push it onto a controlling company.
        • by devent (1627873) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @01:35PM (#36322410) Homepage

          That doesn't make any sense at all, you just throw in some buzz-words like "ownership, security, responsibility, reaction time". You comment reads like from some marketing department of Microsoft.

          Governments can do open source, and they should all the time. Because there is no sound reason against open source for governments. If anything else, open source should be the philosophy behind a democratic government, which is paid by the people, works for the people and accumulates data from the people for the people.

          The problem is always the neo-liberals with their free-market dogma. Don't support local economy, but make open bidding where all international heavyweights and convicted monopolies like Microsoft can bid. Don't write software and support your own I.T. department but outsource it to some cloud.

          What the government should do is write open source software, so that every department can use the software for free and have the ability to modify the software for their needs. The government should biased for local software companies and disadvantage international cooperations like Microsoft, because that would foster the local economy and create know-how. The government should have their own I.T. departments because of the sensible nature of the citizens data and national security. And last, it should use open standards where possible and create new open standards where no such standards exists, because of the importance and the need for durability of the citizens data.

          • by Zediker (885207)
            Who said this has anything to do with microsoft? These are common questions when dealing with anything open source. If you dont ask them, you are an idiot, plain and simple.

            Ownership: who the hell do i talk to if there is an issue?

            Security: who contributed to this project? Are they friendly? can i trust them? If there is a security issue, who fixes it? (me or them)

            Responsibility: who is responsible for maintaining and updating this software? Do they care about my business? Do they care about the pr
            • by devent (1627873)

              But all this questions have nothing to do with whether the project is open source or not. This questions arises with every software you use.

              In fact some of those questions are less risky for open source projects.
              With CSS projects only the developer have the ownership, you need to trust him, he can only fix anything and can maintain the project. With an OSS project you have the choice to stay with the original developer or to find a better maintainer of the project or to do it yourself.

              • by Zediker (885207)
                What you say is absolutely true if contracts are never involved. However, almost any procurement ends with a contract between the service or commodity supplier and the government, which really becomes the main barrier to entry to OSS and makes those questions from before more sticklers than commercial flavors of doing business. In the commercial world, everything is fine and rosy with contracts, they are flexible and can be redefined easily. In the government world, not so much. USC Title 10, the FAR, among
      • by devent (1627873)

        I just quote some Peruvian Congressman on this issue:
        http://www.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2002-05-06-012-26-OS-SM-LL [linuxtoday.com]
        "It is also necessary to make it clear that the aim of the Bill we are discussing is not directly related to the amount of direct savings that can by made by using free software in state institutions. That is in any case a marginal aggregate value, but in no way is it the chief focus of the Bill. The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked to the basic guarantees of a stat

    • by dave562 (969951)

      A government IT department should be a cloud service provider. They should be virtualized and SAN backed and replicated to DR sites. When an initiative requires more computing resources, they should be able to spin up a couple of VMs and present them to the team(s) that need the resources.

      I know that "cloud" gets over used a lot, and the term still has some ambiguities to it. It helps if you realize that when the vendors are talking about clouds, they are talking about abstracted resource pools. Instead

    • It's fun watching human behaviour at work.

      Only after making an enormous mistake with serious consequences does a person (or company or industry or government) choose the better - but less satisfying to immediate desires - way. The greater the immediate desire, the more risk will be accepted.

      We wouldn't have so many laws and regulations if it weren't the case that human beings simply love learning things the hard way.

      As an aside, given those traits, I'm sceptical about our chances of doing anything useful in

      • I don't read the situation the same way. It sounds like they had an ambitious, high tech program that they thought would reap huge benefits down the line. Then they lost a chunk of their funding (a common thing in British government lately), and had to scale back the plan and only go after the lowest-hanging fruit.

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Governments very rarely think about things long term... The UK gov has gotten themselves horrendously locked in to IE6 for instance, someone thinking long term could have easily seen that coming.

      Most government IT in the UK is already outsourced, mostly to foreign companies. Their data is hosted on severs owned, produced and managed by foreign companies, sitting in data centers owned by foreign companies, running software controlled by foreign companies.

      The "cloud" idea is a very good one, the idea of power

  • Ah, the good old days of Slashdot in the 1990s when thin clients were the future [slashdot.org], the desktop was dying, Java was the answer [slashdot.org], and kernel 2.3 was finally going to bring Linux to the desktop [slashdot.org].

    • At least thin client computing is a meaningful (well, somewhat meaningful) term. "Cloud computing" seems to have no meaning whatsoever, people just use the term "cloud" to refer to whatever technology they want. Remote data storage? Cloud. Grid computing? Cloud! Batch processing? Yes, that is "cloud" too! It can even be "cloud" if you are not outsourcing anything.
      • by Canazza (1428553)

        It can also be Cloud Computing if you have a computer that's sending another computer data! Because that data isn't on the receiving computer!

        MAAAAAAGIC.

      • by sjames (1099)

        I've been trying very hard to figure out what cloud REALLY is and why all the excitement. It appears to be mostly virtual hosting and storage rental. The big distinction seems to be that it's automated and they offer an hourly rate.

        That's not to say it isn't useful, but it's hardly the new paradigm the hype machine would have us believe it is.

    • by jmkaza (173878)

      In completely unrelated news, Chromium laptops start shipping next week [engadget.com].

    • A lot of places do use thin clients, Java is used all over the place, and oh well two out of three isn't bad.

  • Cloud computing makes sense when an organisation is not big enough to justify having it's own datacenter(s) with dedicate personel and procurement and/or has wildly variable computer processing needs.

    In that situation, by using cloud computing the organisation will save some money because it shares in the benefits that the cloud computing provider has from economies of scale.

    However, if an organisation has big enough, reasonably stable computing power needs, it should already benefit from economies of scale

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Cloud computing makes a lot of sense when you have your own dc, there is no reason you would need to outsource it to a third party provider...

      An organisation like HMRC doesn't require the same resources all year round, immediately before the deadline for filing tax returns they have a significant increase in load, plus they process all the tax data in bulk.

      It actually makes sense for the government to build their own cloud infrastructure, and share it out across multiple departments, but government has neve

  • It's nice of HP to tell us what government policy is...... I would imagine HP were a little scared that the government would get off the hardware upgrade treadmill a little too much if did too much cloud computing.
  • Maybe they didn't want to be accused of having their heads stuck in the clouds.
  • shouldn't submitters RTFA?

    "Any inference that Government has ditched the cloud computing programme is wrong," the spokesperson said.

  • From what I gather - the cloud is generally thought of as being a "not so good thing" due to privacy concerns with hosted data. The upside is supposedly decent uptime due to its distributed nature (unless you're Amazon last month).

    And consolidating a data center is a "not so good thing" due to...well, being consolidated. "One disaster to ruin them all" as it were. The upside is potentially having less overhead costs with your operations.

    So what I don't get - why not just turn their distributed data centers

    • why not just turn their distributed data centers into a gov-operated "cloud"?

      Because UK governments of both Labour and Conservative have a long history of handing over large sums of money to incompetent corporations to create nonsensical spaghetti out of their IT requirements. That will not stop until people that know something about IT are in charge of the purchasing, or in other words, never.

  • More or less all major UK government IT projects start as the baby of some politician who's idea of getting things done is to demand it, shove it through then hope it mostly just comes together in the end.

    Obviously, this doesn't work for a major IT project which really does have to be properly specced from the beginning. It then fails for all the predictable reasons, but the politician will not abandon it as it would be an admission of failure. There's less fuss to waste another (and another) £20m tha

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