G-Cloud takes a passage to India

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan February 4, 2014
Summary:
India is the latest government to emulate the UK's approach to a national cloud computing strategy as well as seeking public/private sector partnerships.

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One of the points made by the UK government’s Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude of late is the number of overseas governments that have looked to the British G-Cloud national cloud computing program as a template for what they might seek to replicate.

It’s a great compliment to the success of the G-Cloud initiative that this should be the case (and incidentally should - but won’t - be a slap on the wrist to certain parties in Brussels who sniffily dismiss national programmes as part of their wider centralist agenda!).

A prime example of this G-Cloud emulation in practice kicked off this week in India with the formal launch of Meghraj - AKA GI-Cloud or Government of India Cloud.

Inaugurated by Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal, GI-Cloud is being teed up to accelerate delivery of digital public services in the country, optimising ICT spend by government and speed up adoption of systems across government organisations. Sibal said:

"This is a great milestone. There will be lot of savings in this project as infrastructure will be provided by government of India. Even the manpower, software programmes will be provided by us.”

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Kipil Sibal

The formal launch yesterday followed the publication of two policy reports last year by the Indian government’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) - Cloud Strategic Direction Paper and Cloud Adoption and Implementation Roadmap.

In these, the government sets out its mission for the cloud policy:

The GI Cloud is envisaged to be established initially on national and state data centre assets (adapted for the cloud through virtualisation) and connected through existing network infrastructure such as the SWANs, NKN, as well as the internet. Based on demand assessment and taking into account security related considerations, government may also engage the services of private cloud providers.

The GI Cloud will provide services to government departments, citizens and businesses through internet as well as mobile connectivity. In addition to accelerating the delivery of e-services to citizens and businesses , the government’s cloud-based service delivery platform will also support a number of other objectives including increased standardisation, interoperability and integration, a move towards an opex model, the pooling of scarce, under-utilised resources and the spread of best practices. It will also support on-going cost effectiveness and  manageability.

Under the GI-Cloud umbrella sit the following components:

  • Cloud computing platforms
  • Common platform to host and run applications - eGov AppStore
  • GI Cloud Services Directory that will act as the single window or portal for GI Cloud service delivery
  • Integrated infrastructure acting as a backbone for delivering cloud services
  • Common set of protocols, guidelines and standards for GI Cloud
  • An institutional mechanism consisting of an Empowered Committee and Architecture Management Office
  • DeitY will be the administrative department responsible for implementation and monitoring of the entire GI Cloud initiative
  • A Center of Excellence for cloud computing for awareness building, best practices creation, providing advisory services to the departments on cloud adoption, showcasing the cloud technologies, international collaboration and research and development.

Forrester analyst Sudhanshu Bhandari reckons that the appetite for a government cloud is there in India:

Three-quarters of the Indian public sector organizations we interviewed indicated that addressing the rising expectations of citizens and ensuring that they are satisfied is their top business priority.

Over the next decade, the Indian government’s g-cloud approach will drive major changes in the types of services it delivers — not just to citizens but also to employees and businesses by 1) rolling out services faster and reaping the desired benefits earlier, 2) optimizing the use of infrastructure while reducing management overhead, and 3) reducing bureaucracy and increasing transparency.

But Bhandari can see some challenges ahead for DeitY, specifically:

  • A lack of common policies will challenge application reuse.  This is of course a pretty universal issue, but Bhandari reckons it’s particularly significant for India due to the country’s highly federated government structure and a history of ‘go it alone’ IT initiatives across central and state governments.
  • Individual technology stacks and a lack of infrastructure standardization will limit success. Bhandari notes that the Indian government has set up multiple data centers and allowed vendors to colocate their hardware infrastructure in these data centers for the rollout of eGovernance initiatives. This, he concludes, will lead to what he calls significant challenges in managing, consolidating, and scaling its private g-cloud model.

The government should not rely on incentives and sanctions to spur widespread adoption of the g-cloud, because individual departments still feel the need to control all aspects of their services.

Indian summer

There are also general elections looming in India in May and it’s likely that an unofficial moratorium on IT spending will extend beyond that until it’s clear what the 2014 political landscape will look like.

That said, it’s unlikely that if there’s a change of party in power that the interest at the top of government will drift away from the potential of cloud computing, both as an efficiency driver and as an economic enabler.

The outsourcing industry has had to adjust to the emergence of cloud computing and particularly cloud services into the mainstream and to work as hard as the leading enterprise applications firms to adjust its business model to cope.

As as result, every major outsourcer and systems integrator now has skin in the cloud game, some more successfully than others. But every one of them realises they need some cloud credibility.

Given that India has built much of its economic success on the offshoring sector of the outsourcing industry, inevitably it needs as a nation to be encouraging investment in cloud computing to set itself up as home to a global reach cloud services industry.

That’s coming in the form of inward investment from the US cloud services leaders as well as an shift in direction for the indigenous Indian services giants such as Infosys, which partners with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and VMware for its cloud offerings.

Infosys President U.B. Pravin Rao says the firm’s customers are cloud fans:

“We have almost 20 engagements in cloud and Big Data. Cloud is driving the IT organization towards more outcome-based, SLA-oriented constructs.

“Clients are also excited about the possibilities of contractibility and open standards that would help eliminate vendor lock-in and maximize performance.”

For a company such as Wipro, India’s third largest services exporter, there’s even consideration of spinning off a dedicated cloud services subsidiary.

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T. K. Kurien

Wipro chief executive T.K. Kurien can see both the promise and the threat of the cloud:

“We haven't yet seen a secular decline in that business because of the cloud. We haven't yet started seeing big impact of that.

“We are seeing it on the edges. We're seeing it in HR. We're seeing it a little bit on CRM, but we are not seeing a secular trend.

“But what we are clearly seeing is we are seeing opportunities, which are coming up where people want to variablize their cost with or without the cloud. And that's a fairly big trend.”

For the moment, Kurien is convinced that the interest in the cloud is complementary to Wipro’s traditional integration and BPO offerings:

“The cloud is coming and clearly eating up a lot of the applications on the edges, but fundamentally, today, it's restricted to two areas: one is on the sales force side; and the other one is on the HR side. This is where you're seeing big implementations going on.

“In both these cases, even though the pool unit implementation for us, the ticket size, is not as big as the old deals that we used to get, we still see plenty of work happening on the front end in terms of integration. So that's an area of opportunity for us.

“What's happened is the pool has moved from one end, which is typical application deployment of the past into more consulting on the front end when it comes to these two services.”

There’s also a big push by the Indian government to encourage US tech champions to continue to see the country as a low-arbitrage option for inward investment. That seems to be paying off to date with IBM recently committing to spend part of its $1.2 billion global cloud investment in country.

And it’s probably not just a coincidence that Oracle chose New Dehli for the second stop on its worldwide Cloud World conference tour where Sandeep Mathur, Managing Director, Oracle India said:

“Oracle’s long history of technology innovation along with seven years of relentless engineering and key strategic acquisitions has enabled us to launch the most comprehensive cloud offerings in the world.

“The India marketplace is absolutely ready for large scale cloud adoption and we look forward to supporting our customers in their business transformation journeys.”

All of this will be encouraging to Minister Sibal who sees co-operation between private and public sectors as vital moving forward:

“Economy works on the basis of the private sector. To make the private sector more efficient, you should launch a cloud with private sector.

“MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) is not competitive with the rest of the world because each of them cannot have separate manpower, separate infrastructure for computing facility.

“Why can't NIC (National Informatics Centre) launch a company in which NIC has 49% and private sector players have 51% that can manage cloud and cater to the needs of the private sector.”

 Verdict

A solid , sensible approach to a national cloud computing strategy - and a vindication of the UK approach.(Brussels, please take note!)

There are clearly bumps in the road ahead - as Forrester's Bhandari points out - but it's a good start.