Thursday, November 3, 2011

The State of Cloud Computing – A Message to the Government of India

Despite a forward looking IT policy, unlike the US (and to some extent the UK and Australia), India is still in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to cloud computing based IT strategies. The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) represents the government of India striving to reach the common man through Information Technology (IT). Under NeGP, the State Data Center (SDC) envisions a countrywide infrastructure reaching every state.

But when and how will this vision be implemented? Of late, we have heard of a few tactical moves from the government, for instance: Government of India to provide subsidized cloud computing to SMEs [Source] But it’s too little, although it may not be too late.

Government Cloud (G-Cloud) in India?

Whatever information there is in the public domain, from a strategic point of view, it seems government cloud in India has a yet to take those first baby steps towards utilizing the power of the cloud. But there’s indeed some good news from a few of the Indian states, and something hopeful on the horizon.

  • To implement cloud solutions, a tri-partite agreement was signed, in June 2010, by Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM), Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala (IIITM-K), Chennai (C-DAC). Though cloud has various benefits going for it, what sparked the agreement was when the authorities realized that one of the e-governance projects, SPARK (Service and Payroll Administrative Repository for Kerala) was not performing well during the peak period of computation (at the end of every month).
  • In the year June 2010, the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) successfully utilized computing services offered by the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) to roll out citizen services online within 60 days at zero initial cost. The pilot was successfully completed, and the state of MP received revenues from J&K on a per transaction basis.
  • The Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India, is set to roll out India’s first government cloud (G-Cloud) policy by 2012, which will modernize and streamline government services and bureaucratic functioning.

With the above in mind, I contacted a few of the pioneers of cloud computing field with the following query:

How should the central and state governments in India formulate their cloud based IT strategy so as to facilitate communication within the government, between the government and its citizens, and between the government and businesses?

Their views follow (in random order)

Kishore (Impel CRM)

Narasimhan (Kishore) Mandyam - CEO of PK4, a Bangalore based company that delivers a SaaS - Impel CRM.

Narasimhan (Kishore) Mandyam's Interview

Your question about the approach that Govts should take in formulating their Cloud strategies is an interesting one: I've heard bureaucrats talk about “a Cloud for Peenya Industrial Estate, a Cloud for Sales Tax Dept.” and so on and that just completely obviates any value that the Cloud can bring. The whole value of the Cloud is its ubiquity – most importantly, its ubiquity across apps.

So IMHO, the best way forward is to bring the State Data Centers (SDC) and other Govt.-owned assets under one large infrastructure – call it the Govt. Cloud, if you will. Fences can be built around the whole network and web-service protocols established amongst the SDCs to ensure both Security and Integrability.

That way, a municipal corporation app that the Bruhat Mumbai Mahanagara Palike uses can be easily made available to, say, the Mysore Mahanagara Palike just by configuring the app properly – no new hardware or software to deploy. And industries can consume data services provided by the various Govt. agencies using technical formats that follow a standard across the board. End-point devices (a village agriculture inspector with an Aakash tablet, for example) would hang off the same network regardless of where s/he is. Essentially, this would be a huge “private cloud” with all its advantages of accessibility, scalability, security and Integrability.

The current infrastructure of most States supports this kind of thing, at a primary level. The SDCs and the SWANs, as they are called, have the hardware layers to support “federation” at a National level. What’s needed is the addition of elastic computing and that need not be – probably SHOULD not be – rolled out at a state level. It can be something that a NetMagic (for example) would be happy to roll out for the Govt. inside a National or regional data center.

That way, while the Govt. Cloud continues to use the current hardware assets of the States, there is a clear future path that includes growth and replacement via the National or Regional DCs. I don’t think any of this is brain surgery – it only needs a big-picture planning process that does not lose sight of the small details!


Ezhil Arasan Babaraj (CSS Corp)

Ezhilarasan Babaraj - Director of CSS Corp Labs. Ezhilarasan has been involved in cloud computing for about 2+ years and has led several projects in Amazon Web Services Platform.

Ezhilarasan Babaraj’s Interview

The strategy for India to embrace Cloud Computing should be to come up with a blue print for community cloud model that will allow every state to participate in their own way but completely controlled. Embrace software companies to start using the cloud to provide "software as a service" with the benefits of Cloud passed on to the consumers of this cloud.


Jamal Mazhar (Kaavo)

Jamal Mazhar - Founder and CEO of Kaavo. He possesses 15+ years of experience in technology, engineering and consulting with a range of Fortune 500 companies including GE and ING.
Jamal Mazhar’s Interview

I would like to emphasize two points:

1. In India broadband penetration is quite low, government needs to invest more in broadband infrastructure to make sure it is available to every household in India. These days not having a broadband Internet connectivity is equivalent of not having a basic necessity like electricity.

2. Because of Title V of the Patriot Act some of the potential jobs and revenues for the US companies are diverted to other countries, as Canada and several European countries have passed laws to restrict what type of data can be stored in the US datacenters. Indian government can learn from this and perhaps come up with policies to make India an attractive location for cloud datacenters serving global customers.

IT / Cloud Trivia in Government Sector

  • The National Informatics Centre (NIC) plays a major role in design, development & maintenance of almost all Indian government (central and state governments) websites and e-Governance initiatives. (53 departments of the Government of India, 35 State/UT Secretariats and 603 District collectorates).
  • Randomly checking, I found districts as far as Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and Kargil in J&K have an official website. This is indeed a commendable effort by NIC.
  • Despite my praise for NIC, I must stress that, in my opinion, almost all of the websites designed by NIC look primitive and are aesthetically challenged. Serious improvement is needed in user interface. A case in point is the official website of the district/city considered the silicon valley of India – Bangalore
  • NIC was set up in 1976. (Yes, much before many of us were born!)
  • NIC has set up Internet Data Centre (IDC) at NIC headquarters, New Delhi. It has a capacity to house more than 1000 servers, and is currently equipped with 435 servers connected with 460 TB of storage capacity in the SAN.
  • Gujarat State Data Centre (GSDC) is the first State Data Centre (SDC) made operational in India.
  • PWC, 3i – Infotech and Wipro are the consultants for implementing SDC in 31 Indian states/UT. PWC is consulting for 16, Wipro for 9 and 3i – Infotech for 6 states/UT.
  • Exam results apps are the best fit cases for a cloud solution. Why? Because they are very high traffic apps just for two or three days in a year. The rest of the year they are almost idle. It is the same case with election results. Moreover, the current apps are never prepared for the sudden burst in traffic and tend to crash on d-day. By the time they are up and running the print media is already out with the exam results.

As with everything Indian, G-Cloud is rolling, albeit at a slower pace. Please share your messages via comment. Did you like this article? Spread the word…


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