Blog post

Microsoft offers a refreshing perspective on government clouds

By Andrea Di Maio | November 05, 2010 | 0 Comments


In a recently released a white paper about The Economics of the Cloud for the EU Public Sector (there is also an almost identical version with “US” rather than “EU” in the title), Microsoft has tried to describe in layman terms what the advantages of shifting to cloud computing would be for public sector organizations.

While I am sure many will focus on the amount of savings mentioned in the paper, such as a 80% lower total cost of ownership figure, the paper is very interesting for other reasons:

  • It offers a clear explanation of how private clouds offer significantly fewer benefits than public clouds, and – while it still claims an advantage with respect to virtualized data centers – casts doubts about the longer-term value of investing in private clouds
  • It does not mention the terms “community” or “government” cloud and makes a good case for multi-industry use as a way to balance variability across different sectors
  • It does not suggest a government role as cloud provider, although Microsoft’s 365 dedicated offering would clearly resonate with shared and centralized service providers
  • It offers a realistic view of how the diversity of agencies in the same jurisdiction will lead to requirements that are unlikely to be met by private clouds
  • It emphasizes the relevance of “rogue clouds”, i.e. independent cloud initiatives by individual departments, business users, developers, which is the same force that drove toward client server adoption.

The paper is surprisingly refreshing since it does not try to match the reality of current Microsoft’s offering, which spans from on-premises, to dedicated and shared implementations, potentially able to meet any flavor of cloud. On the contrary Microsoft shows remarkable common sense in providing public sector clients with a realistic and cautionary picture about both private and community clouds.

Of course the paper does not have all responses and assumes that advances in technology and standardization will overcome some of the constraints that are slowing down the transition to cloud. Their bottom line, although implicit, is that clients should plan for public cloud, or stay with what they have.

Interestingly enough, over the last week I have spoken to two local government organizations, running respectively Groupwise and Exchange for email, and having costs per users that are a fraction of what both Microsoft and Google offer on their public cloud. I do not care about the accuracy of their TCO computation, but I welcome a view that looks at cloud for the value it can provide and not as a compliance requirement.

Microsoft’s paper, while clearly making a pro-cloud case, provides additional food for thought to better position cloud with respect to shared services and consolidation initiatives, and helps dispel the myth of government clouds. If government organizations cannot use public cloud due to data protection constraints, they may be better off with more traditional sourcing arrangements than with a private or community clouds. Now, that’s an interesting thought.

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