India will soon offer reliable, affordable, and efficient cloud services for the private sector through a unique government-private sector joint effort. With an eye on helping the micro, small, and midsized enterprises to harness the cloud to keep pace with modern technology and growing expertise, the government has proposed a cloud services joint venture (JV) to be floated by mid-2014.
While it is too early for exact details of the JV, the proposal is for the government-run National Informatics Centre (NIC) to start a new company with 49% stake, roping in the private sector as a joint partner holding 51% stake. NIC is an organization under the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), which develops software solutions and services to spearhead an informatics-led development program for the Indian government.
The idea for the JV was first voiced by the minister for information technology and telecom, Kapil Sibal, at the formal launch of the GI cloud initiative of India, dubbed Meghraj. With institutional links with all the government departments across the country, NIC has been instrumental in deploying e-government applications that have in turn enabled transparency and paved the way for decentralized planning and management.
The GI Cloud initiative helps government departments procure ICT services on demand in the opex model rather than investing upfront on capex, and it could serve as a model for the new proposal. Through the "national cloud" cloud services like infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS), and storage-as-a-service (STaaS) are being provided to government departments.
Government departments are eager to avail of this service as they can save time and money if they use NIC's infrastructure without having to invest in hardware or software. Judging by the response of its own departments, the government is now looking at providing a similar service to the private sector.
To quote the minister in an interview for the Economic Times, Kapil Sibal:
Economy works on the basis of the private sector. To make the private sector more efficient, we should launch a cloud with private sector. The MSME is not competitive with the rest of the world because each of them cannot have separate manpower, separate infrastructure for computing facility... We can provide the expertise, security, basic services while the private sector can focus on core competence. We can partner with private firms to understand the specific needs of each sector and even come up with tailormade solutions.
This really is a clear breakaway from the earlier mindset of government science, research, and technology bodies working purely for their own departments
While E2India has earlier reported on the Meghraj initiative, it is important to note the opportunities that the final form of the policy has opened up for the private sector:
- The government is free to engage the services of private cloud service providers to set up dedicated government clouds or empanel providers based on the policy, standards, and guidelines.
- Private players will also be allowed to host cloud-based apps on the eGov AppStore -- a common platform that will host and run applications in national clouds.
- Under the PPP model, private sector players have been given the role of system integrators where they can operate and maintain cloud services for specified periods of time.
- The cloud utilities or cloud service providers may be expected to release a defined rate card that is accessible to government departments. They are also permitted to empanel their service rate cards with government agencies like National Informatics Centre Services Incorporated (NICSI) -- a not-for-profit under the NIC and DGS&D -- a Central Purchase and Quality Assurance organization under the Ministry of Commerce -- as a ready reference for easy procurements in tune with prevailing norms.
- Existing state datacenters -- a core element of India's e-governance infrastructure -- are to be cloud-enabled through migration to private clouds.
Meanwhile, a separate working group at DeitY is working on a legal framework to enable cloud services in the country. Headed by Infosys co-founder and current executive vice chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan, it is deliberating on issues like jurisdiction, cross-border data flow, data location, security, and so on.
So CIOs, watch this space for further developments. The cloud is increasing its cover over India.