Cloudy days for Sunshine State

Privacy fears stall cloud computing for government

Australia could be the cloud computing hub of the Asia Pacific within the next 20 years, according to top government CIOs and industry experts.

Sensitive data from governments and businesses within the Asia Pacific will reside in a series of high-tech, zero-carbon data centres spread through Australia's capital cities, and linked into hubs across the region, including servers deployed on disused oil rigs in international waters.

The scenario is one of ways the federal government may use cloud computing, according to Queensland government acting CIO Allan Chapman, Brisbane City Council CIO Tony Welsh, former CIO of Queensland health and transport Paul Summergreene and local Microsoft CTO Greg Stone, who participated in a hypothetical discussion on the impacts and use of the technology.

Depending on who you ask, cloud computing is either the next big thing in IT services or just another amorphous label tagged onto what is a 20 year evolution of the ideals of utility computing.

Pundits agree, however, that the technology's promise to take the burden of backend processing, data and application services away from government and business and hand it to companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google will revolutionise the IT industry.

The Brisbane forum — dubbed 'Government with it's head in the cloud' — invited participants to discuss the appropriateness of sending government data into the cloud in a nation fiercely protective of its privacy.

Australia's cloud, coined cloud.au by participants, has bounced around senior QLD government offices in 'academic' discussions, which considered the ramifications of a cloud bound by national borders to one allowed to drift between international data centres.

While Chapman would not speculate on how long the government may take to send data into a cloud that breaches international borders, he said the technology could be used in minute amounts inside three years. Such usage may focus on 'vanilla transactions' which are void of sensitive data, while wider government adoption of cloud computing will take between 15 and 20 years due to privacy concerns.

The government will develop standards and application roadmaps in about 10 years, according to Summergreene, depending on the adoption of cloud computing in the private sector.

Others, such as National ICT Australia (NICTA) principal scientist Dr Renato Iannella, predict the government will take 'bite-sized chunks' of cloud computing, and watch industry experiences.

Sun shines above the clouds

The unmatched economy of scale that the cloud computing concept offers is seen by some as the panacea for IT shops feeling the global economic pinch. A cautious Chapman said the cloud offers governments better economies of scale, higher utilisation and promises to alleviate some pressure of skills shortages.

Reason has it that government departments stand to benefit the most during the economic pinch as they are forced from the top to rationalise IT spend. Microsoft's Speares said organisations could send up to 90 percent of its 'generic processing' into the cloud and retain the remainder in-house.

"The cloud allows you to handle multiple scenarios with more flexibility because it breaks functionality in chunks spread across the cloud," Stone said.

NICTA is developing a new privacy policy technology, dubbed the Privacy-Orientated Web, which will link access rights management to online content. Dr Iannella said the policy language has to be flexible enough to reflect changing law.

"It has a language that can model the basics of privacy and rights management with future changes," Dr Iannella said.

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