This article is part of our Essential Guide: Essential guide to application modernisation

Government Digital Service builds in-house PaaS to host government services

Industry watchers query why the Government Digital Service (GDS) decided to build its own cloud platform, when many commercially available options exist

The government plans to build an in-house platform-as-a-service (PaaS) system to host digital services, instead of paying an external provider.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has set out plans to build a single, centralised and multi-tenant PaaS system. It wants all departments and agencies to use it to host their digital services, rather than waste time and duplicating effort by creating their own individual stacks.

“One thing that takes a lot of time in government is procuring commercial services and making sure they are accredited,” said a GDS blog post.

“If we could do that once, for the PaaS, then that could save service teams a great deal of time, while making sure that those aspects are being handled in the correct way.”

A prototype has already been built, based on feedback from government users, and has been used to host several services already – including the G-Cloud Digital Marketplace – during testing.

“We expect to be in alpha until the end of November 2015, by which time we will have completed a detailed comparison of two open source PaaS technologies and addressed issues around performance, security and scalability, for example,” the blog post continued.

But some have queried why the GDS should go it alone.

GDS could solve these problems with relative ease by partnering with an external cloud provider, instead of going down the DIY route, several public sector analysts watchers have indicated to Computer Weekly.

Angela Eager, research director for enterprise software and application services at TechMarketView, said the government needs to be more open about the reasons why it has decided against using a third-party PaaS provider.

Computer Weekly contacted the Cabinet Office for clarification, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

“There need to be compelling reasons to build and run your own PaaS when there are commercial versions available, with the necessary scalability and economies of scale in place,” said Eager.

“Understanding the rationale behind the decision is important, because the starting place for this sort of platform should be reviewing commercial services first and only building your own if they cannot fulfil the necessary criteria.”

Trouble on the horizon

Anthony Miller, managing partner at TechMarketView, added that the government could be storing up trouble for itself.

“What they need is an industrial-strength (or should that be government-strength?) platform based on industry standard hardware and software,” he said.

“If they try to build it themselves using a patchwork quilt of products from startups and SMEs that will soon become unravelled.”

But Jessica Figueras, research director at fellow IT analyst house Kable, said the government may have decided against using an outside party so it can retain control of the entire PaaS stack.

“If they can get it right, it will enable government users to easily shift between commodity hosting services, and that will make for a more competitive market,” she said.

“GDS could go out to market for a third party to build it for them, but – in practice – I suspect it will be using the self-same contractors that a third-party supplier would have put on the project anyway.”

Read more about government cloud procurement

FOI response reveals four in five G-Cloud buyers are failing to share details of the savings they have made through using the framework.

The Cabinet Office has signed a seven-year joint venture agreement with Ark Data Centres to create the Crown Hosting Service, which is intended to centralise all non-cloud datacentre services across government.

Read more on Web development