Turnbull should spare us all airline-magazine-grade cloud hype

Box-hugger is not a dirty word, Minister. Box-huggers make the cloud WORK


Australia's Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday labelled those who oppose use of the public cloud “box-huggers” and suggested such behaviour is bad because it ties organisations to an outmoded and expensive way of doing IT.

“There is more resistance to cloud in government that anywhere else,” he said, and blamed this on “the approach of the former government [which] was not risk management, but aversion to change.”

He then went on to suggest that “virtually nothing has been spent on cloud since 2010” by Australia's government sector and that this represents “very, very disappointing progress”.

Turnbull's enthusiasm for cloud is hard to fault: cloud is a very significant change, does offer chances for performance improvements, and may well offer cost savings.

But Turnbull's criticism of government cloud adoption are shallow even by the standards of his own cloud policy.

That policy, as we've reported says government agencies must use cloud “where it is fit for purpose, provides adequate protection of data and delivers value for money.”

There's a very good chance that all current Australian clouds offer government agencies an out on or more of those grounds. Turnbull's host on Monday, Dimension Data, showed why when its CEO pointed out that its soon-to-be-operable government-only cloud will be rated to handle Protected data but that no previous cloud service in Australia has been able to do so.

At the event, Dimension Data also pointed out that clouds aren't infallible or magical. So with no current cloud capable of handling Protected data and no cloudy backup available, it's easy to make a case for clouds not being fit for purpose. And therefore also easy to make a case for the previous government’s slow pace of adoption being prudent.

Turnbull also appears to be unaware of the many private clouds operating among Federal government agencies, who get the concept even if they've not adopted public clouds. It's therefore unfair to ascribe low spending on public cloud to unreasonable reticence or indifference to the careful use of public funds. Failure by Government agencies isn't tolerated by elected officials or the public and jumping into the public cloud clearly carries the risk of degrading or interrupting government services. Turnbull's excoriated NBN Co and hosed out its board for management failings. Would he be any kinder towards an agency that botched a cloud migration?

Turnbull also betrayed little awareness of current thinking in enterprise IT. He seems unaware of hybrid cloud and the reasons it makes sense in terms of compute-affinity, investment protection and delivering the non-fragile, highly-auditable environments clouds can't yet match.

The minister also seems blind to the need to protect investment in legacy systems and hybrid cloud's role in such efforts. Nor did he evince awareness of the fact that several companies – Zynga is exhibit A – have found that at scale it can be cheaper and more effective to run one's own IT instead of relying on public cloud.

Waste, service delivery, and scale

Turnbull's very keen on two things: reducing waste and digital government service delivery. If the second requires over-spend on cloud for cloud's sake, he could be left looking foolish!

Turnbull was right to point to the economies of scale that come from residing in a well-managed bit barn where tenants can tap into experts mean it would be wasteful to have working inside every government agency.

But he did not acknowledge that there are plenty of people with similar skills working for government agencies.

Many of those people will be fond of on-premises hardware, its care and feeding, an attitude that probably won't sustain their careers for the long haul.

But it is an attitude that reflects IT as it is done today. The Reg is often told that the overwhelming majority of workloads – more than 90 per cent - are still run on-premises.

That will change over time. But making the change will require box-huggers to understand and embrace the cloud, so that the rigour and discipline they apply to their trade will continue to ensure government workloads deliver the right outcomes.

Telling IT decision makers and practitioners they're speed bumps on the road to progress isn't a good way to start that process.

One other thing Turnbull should know about IT is that one-size-fits-all policy approaches don't work. The Howard government in which he served as a minister had an outsource-everything policy that failed to deliver the expected savings. Miserably. ®

Bootnote Yes, we could also have mentioned that cloud service delivery looks rather hamstrung by a National Broadband Network running, mostly, on either twisted pairs or hybrid fibre-coax. But that's another story.


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