Government IT spending report could spark virtualisation adoption

A scathing report on the UK government’s IT spending may lead the public sector to search for savings with virtualisation and cloud computing, experts say.

A damning report on government  IT spending in the UK may boost virtualisation and cloud computing adoption in the public sector.

The report by Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) accused the government of wasting an “obscene amount of public money” and described its record in developing and implementing new IT systems as “appalling.” Amidst the fallout from the report, experts have outlined the cost-saving opportunities that virtualisation and cloud computing could provide. They have urged the government to explore these opportunities more robustly to cut its IT spending.

“The government certainly needs a smarter way of deploying systems and running IT projects to stop wasting money,” said Hamish Macarthur, founder of Macarthur Stroud International, an IT research and consultancy firm. “Virtualisation is one of the options.”

Cloud computing’s pay-as-you-use business model can also help reduce government IT spending, said Andy Burton, chairman of the Cloud Industry Forum, which advocates best practices for cloud computing.

“In using an [operating expense] payment model, rather than the traditional [capital expense] payment model, the government will benefit from only paying for the IT services it uses,” he said. “Government departments can also have reduced upfront costs.”

A lower cost of ownership will allow government departments to reinvest in their infrastructure and do more with fewer resources. Cloud computing will also promote more efficient and effective use of technical staff.

“IT labour costs alone represent 70% of an IT operating budget,” Burton said. “With its autonomic character, cloud computing eliminates the time traditionally required to requisition IT resources and help it achieve efficiency in its IT spending.”

It’s important to note that virtualisation already has made its way into certain areas of government IT infrastructure. A number of government departments -- including Transport for London, Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the National Policing Improvement Agency -- are using server and/or desktop virtualisation, according to a Citrix report to Parliament earlier this year.

Learning from the private sector

If government IT pros are hesitant about virtualisation and cloud computing, they should look at how private-sector organisations have used these technologies to reduce physical infrastructure and achieve efficiencies.

“They can learn how large private sector organisations have consolidated their IT infrastructure,” said Galen Schreck, a virtualisation expert at Forrester. “Large multinationals use virtualisation to cut down on silos. This helps them to have a holistic view of their IT infrastructure.”

Improving government IT agility

The PASC report recommended that government IT departments use agile and iterative development methods, which enable IT programmes to more easily adapt to changes.

“Often the IT systems that government develops are already out of date before they have been implemented,” the committee of Members of the Parliament said in the report.

By using virtualisation as a base infrastructure, the government could improve agility and ensure that its infrastructure is flexible, Macarthur said. This problem of inflexibility is related to another issue the report noted: government’s over-reliance on a small group of large vendors.

“Large vendors and service providers aren’t very flexible,” Macarthur said. “As a result, the government IT teams are playing catch-up in deploying newer technologies. Smaller and medium-sized vendors offer the agility to deploy new cost-saving technologies more easily.”

One way for the government to widen its supplier base is to reduce the size of its contracts and simplifying its procurement process, the report said. More agile IT projects will in turn reduce the risk usually associated with large IT projects, Burton said. Long-term, restrictive IT contracts are often “extortionate,” and the systems sold in this way are “under-used,” he added warning professionals of inefficiencies in government IT spending.

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