HP Source Leaves Poor Taste

Last week the MD of HP in the UK, Nick Wilson (previously of IBM and CSC) made punchlines in the UK by claiming:

“They’ve canned [gCloud],” Wilson said.“They thought cloud was a bit too much nirvana, so in the short term, the projects that are being looked at are data centre consolidation.”

The outside world largely ignored the article – perhaps they thought gCloud was already dead and long since buried; the internal world suddenly asked questions like “we canned it? what about all the work we’ve done?”

Our HP MD went on to say

“If you want big savings… if you want to get into the billions, you have to go to the big companies with big balance sheets and big ideas,”

Ah yes … the big companies with the big ideas. And the BILLIONS . They can deliver the other kind of nirvana, the real one. Oh. Wait.

There is, though, some confusion about what gCloud is or might be. Even government’s own don’t always seem to know :

Meanwhile, the G-Cloud strategy has been dismissed as unnecessary by David Wilde, CIO for Westminster City Council. When asked back in March [by a Parliamentary committee] whether the government’s concept of a nationalised cloud was a mistake for most government data, he responded: “Why have a nationalised one when there are so many privatised ones out there already?”

Returning to HP, I have it from an impeccable source – that means one that may know the truth rather than one who doesn’t, as apparently found by HP – that they did indeed propose that they could save government billions – well £1bn to be precise – through the BIG idea of data centre consolidation.

After some rudimentary due diligence (of the sort, 0.1+0.02=?), HP have had to back away from that and offer, instead, some £120m of saves at best, and then only in return for extensions to their existing contracts. Those will not be forthcoming. As someone might have once said, a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money. Someone has banked that money already.

HP’s response to the story was somewhat predictable, roughly paraphrasing “it’s all a mistake, it’s out of context” and so on, or, specifically:

HP have responded to the gCloud story by claiming that “Nick Wilson [actually] said the first priority for government was to look at datacentre consolidation, after which topics like G-Cloud would be addressed. As with many commercial clients, the process of datacentre consolidation is often a first step towards use of cloud.”

Everything I hear today is that gCloud is alive and well. It is, though, a programme, not a thing. There isn’t going to be a big cloud (in the sky) owned by government into which each and every bit of IT will be shovelled, dribbled or piled.

People inside government continue to work on gCloud and, whilst it’s not without [some pretty significant] challenges, it’s making progress. Ten years ago when I was at the centre of government, I would have done such a project with some pretty substantial seed funding from HM Treasury and I would have made a strong case for some kind of mandation – I’d have wanted government to get behind whatever the offer was and direct people to use it. That didn’t happen then – cf gateway, DotP etc – and it isn’t going to happen now. The difference now is that departments phone up the gCloud team every day looking for opportunities to join up – to save money, reduce risk, speed delivery and get something done. The pressure is on and departments are looking for ways to reduce that pressure.

My understanding is that gCloud is, amongst other things:

– A range of commercial offers, often in the public cloud (the privatised cloud as David Wilde quipped), though private cloud will feature too, covering everything from IaaS to PaaS to SaaS

– Services available initially at IL0 and IL2 (taking those at the very simplest level, that means, say, gMail might be IL0 and Office 365 might be IL2 – it’s way more complicated than that inevitably but one of the biggest differences between IL0 and IL2 is whether the data is in the EU or not); IL3 will follow though that is substantially more likely to be in various private clouds (though not in a single “gCloud”). The latter examples aren’t always true but they’re true enough to be taken as precedence perhaps.

– Aimed at stimulating the widest possible market by lowering the barriers to entry for provision of services (decluttering the commercials as well as taking services as they are rather than with overwhelming government customisation) and so helping smaller businesses gain entry to the government market

– Architecture neutral. What’s wanted is bare tin at IaaS, a range of suppliers putting capability on top of bare tin at PaaS and true services that are platform agnostic at SaaS. Government is buying services. They want those to be assured services – secure, reliable and performing to service levels (I hate the word performant, if it even is a word) and so on.

– Already making progress with email suppliers being evaluated at a pilot level and several more projects in the wings

I disagree with HP that rationalising data centres is the “first step towards use of the cloud” – gCloud is not about taking what you have and cramming it into an ever smaller space through virtualisation (though I do agree that is a useful, but separate step). Instead it’s about moving services out of the behemoth contracts that government operates today and replacing them with services provided by others. In less than 5 years many of the big government IT contracts will come up for renewal and nearly all of those are over £1bn a year, much less under £100m a year and so in order to make a dent in those, something more radical than a bit (or a lot) of server consolidation is needed. Something far more radical.

This new model brings all kinds of problems including federated authentication, managing a multi-sourced service offer, bandwidth upgrades for internet connections in departments, the need to upgrade from IE6, lighter touch procurement, revised terms and conditions that support SMEs, a move from typically funding IT with capex to funding it with opex, TUPE (a topic I’ve raised before) and many more.

I will post about a few of these in the future.

Meanwhile, the cloud is very much alive and the gCloud programme continues. As I said above, not without its challenges and none of those are easy to solve tomorrow but the energy behind solving them is large and constant. What’s important is to keep that focus when it would be easier to switch to other topics – especially as, inevitably, people come and go and attention wanders.

It would be a shame to let this one go given how often the goals of shared services, lower cost, more SMEs etc have been articulated. It needs to succeed. And the supplier community should get behind it, as should the wider government community.

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