Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Public services and e-Government in the cloud in Brussels

It has been a longer road than usual to Brussels from Amsterdam today due to late running trains, but not to worry, the sun is shining and the only clouds on the horizon here this afternoon are at SIENA’s CloudScape-III event. The two day event at The Hotel in Brussels is billed as ‘taking European cloud infrastructure forward’ and the associated “European Roadmap on Grid and Cloud Standards for e-Science and Beyond” is available from the SIENA website

The session that has grabbed my attention features use cases from e-government and distributed computing infrastructures. Ian Osborne, from Intellect asked us, why government as a service? The easy answer is that more and more people in Europe are online, 60% in the UK out of a population of 60 million for example. At the moment the thinking around this is not very joined up - there are 130 data centres in central government in the UK supporting discrete processes, such as applying for passports and driving licences, iPhone apps for job seekers and tracking crime hotspots. You can even watch the location of road gritters in real time, something which seems a lot less urgent in today’s sunshine than it did in the depths of the last winter. However, the different government agencies need to be persuaded to share services more, as they do in the Australian government.

Tim Cowan of Sidley Austin and the Open Computing Alliance, posed a different question - how would you get to cloud computing? Well, like his taxi driver looking for ‘The Hotel’ in Brussels said, I wouldn’t start from here… Cowan introduced us to the Rand report which looked at the ‘Goldilocks’ scenarios for cloud computing – not too hot, not too cold, just right! The Rand report surmised that if you do nothing, you end up with a borderless world, do too much in terms of regulation and everything is too scattered and silo-ed. The ‘just right’ scenario is the connected world – open, collaborative with tangible public benefits. Approaches include pursuing anti-trust regulation, promoting open standards and targeted public procurement. There are some bumps along the road of course, of which the credit crunch is not to be disregarded.

Steven Newhouse of EGI, alerted us to an upcoming trend towards a virtual machine management layer in resource centres, on top of the compute, storage, network and VM image repository elements. Standards are starting to develop in these areas, and the VM images themselves are prompting discussions about the standards that they themselves need.

What does this mean? There is no ‘big bang’ migration – the resources we have today can be used just as well on the VM services. It does mean that we are starting to flush out the role of experts within the community. They no longer need to know every command line quirk, as there are portals out there users can access themselves. What is does do is to increase the flexibility of the infrastructure, so you don’t need a hotline to your top 50 sys admins. It also democratises the resources, so resource providers can offer up the services they want to the communities they want through the infrastructure-as-a-service models. In this way, Virtual Research Communities will include experts able to bridge the language gap between the users and providers. A workshop on these and other themes is planned in Amsterdam on 12-13 May ( – all welcome!

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