The government this week launched its CloudStore, making 1,700 IT services available to public-sector organisations via the cloud.
The service, which the government says is still in its pilot phase, is currently little more than a list of approved suppliers and services.
While this is certainly helpful for public-sector organisations looking to procure IT services, it falls some way short of being the ‘appstore' that many, the government included, are calling it.
A press release on the Cabinet Office's website currently proclaims: "[Cloudstore], the online appstore of the government's G-Cloud framework for cloud-based ICT services, is open for business."
Further development is expected on the initiative, which could eventually see it turn it into a place where services can be directly downloaded.
Until that point it remains a catalogue complete with service details and pricing information, with the aim of enabling public-sector bodies to make faster and better informed procurement decisions.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude emphasises these points, and adds that public-sector IT procurement will also become more transparent.
"The launch of CloudStore is an important milestone in the government's ICT strategy to deliver savings and an IT system fit for the 21st century. Simply stated, purchasing services from CloudStore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike."
Encouraging small business
Maude says that the pricing information will ensure that suppliers remain competitive, helping to drive costs down, and encourage public sector take-up of services from SMEs.
"By creating a competitive marketplace, the G-Cloud framework will constantly encourage service providers to improve the quality and value of the solutions they offer, reducing the cost to taxpayers and suppliers. And it gives SME suppliers of niche products the same opportunities as bigger organisations supplying services."
There have been signs recently that the government is attempting to live up to its promise to outsource more contracts to SMEs, with the HMRC's £2.8bn contract with Capgemini renegotiated recently to allow some of the work, and funds, to go elsewhere.
In keeping with this desire to use UK SMEs where possible, it has used Solidsoft to build the CloudStore, although the government decided against partnering with a UK hosting provider. The Store is hosted on Azure, Microsoft's cloud platform.
But are all the SMEs listed on CloudStore capable of delivering what they promise? Tola Sargeant, director at analyst firm TechMarketView, welcomes the initiative, but casts doubt on its ability to follow through on its promise.
"After a quick play with CloudStore it's clear it is designed very much as a catalogue for commodity products – it's difficult to compare companies on the basis of anything but price," says Sargeant.
"It will undoubtedly drive much faster adoption of cloud services, provide greater visibility for SMEs, lead to a more competitive market and save the government money in the long term.
"But in the short term, my concern is whether some of the smaller suppliers on the framework have the capability to deliver the services required reliably at volume."
The SMEs themselves are delighted to be involved. Among the SMEs listed is Huddle, a provider of secure cloud collaboration and storage services. Huddle CEO Alastair Mitchell highlighted the cost savings that the framework agreement is likely to bring.
"The framework enables organisations to make the move from costly on-premise legacy ICT systems to innovative cloud-based technologies much faster and creates real competition in the government cloud services marketplace," he said.
"Securing government technology deals has long been an area dominated by integrators and technology goliaths and this framework has now levelled the playing field," added Mitchell.
The enterprise view
Despite this levelling, the corporate giants listed on the site are similarly welcoming of the initiative.
Mark Gorman, director, public sector for EMC UK, highlights the improved ability of public-sector organisations to innovate.
"The ambition to separate the issue of infrastructure from applications will empower the government to roll out innovations more quickly, at cost and energy requirements an order of magnitude lower than in the past."
However, the industry is not universally positive. Lynn Collier, senior director of cloud, file and content, at Hitachi Data Systems EMEA, whose firm is not on the supplier list, warned that the CloudStore raises questions about security and service level commitments.
"How is data being protected and what regulatory requirements does the use of public clouds expose an organisation to? And what level of predictability will an organisation have in regard to service level agreement compliance?" asks Collier.
"In response to this, the public sector needs to carefully think about the approach to information management by portioning different types of data into confidential and non-confidential sets and to classify the service level agreement required in relation to availability, access and redundancy," she adds.
The CloudStore lists its available products as including all flavours of cloud serivce, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS). There is also a category for specialist services such as configuration, management and monitoring.