July 2014

Flying High on Cloud Wings

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Renu Budhiraja

Renu Budhiraja,
Senior Director & HoD, State Data Centers, DeitY, Govt of India

Cloud applications in day-to-day governance add not only speed but also efficiency to service delivery, says Renu Budhiraja, Senior Director & HoD, State Data Centers, DeitY, Govt of India

Cloud is no longer a buzzword today; India has moved much beyond. The Government of India has not only come up with various strategies and policies in this regard, but it has also a cloud of its own—MeghRaj—available to various departments for use.

In fact, it all started a year-and-a-half back. We had data centers all across the country and implementations were taking place. We would visualise as to where those centers would stand after a period of five years and how far the infrastructure utilisation would go. But with data centers coming up in a year’s time today, we found that only 50 percent of the infrastructure is being utilised.

As the prime model was colocation, optimum generalisation of infrastructure was not happening. We also found that the operational costs, including licensing, AMC, maintenance, etc., were increasing and adding to the overall cost of the data centers.
Now that so many departments need to bring their applications on board, it was felt that apart from the huge infrastructure we created, including the National Data Centers set up by the NIC, we also needed to utilise them optimally.

And today we see that if we can actually leverage new technologies, like cloud, the existing infrastructure itself could be optimised in such a way that we could utilise the available rack space to serve many more departments at the Centre or in the states.

Procurement rigmarole

Procurement processes are quite lengthy in the government ecosystem – starting with a cycle of having a consultant, developing an RFP and other entailing hassles before an application is finally acquired. MeghRaj is primarily meant to accelerate the system.

If you really want to deliver services fast, it is extremely important that you are in a position to acquire the facilitating technology fast — visit a store, select the required CPU, RAM, storage…and you have the application. Delivery of services can be effectively expedited using the cloud.

Cost optimisation

Whenever we buy a technology infrastructure, swe keep the peak usage in mind. This is what we see in a lot of applications, like income tax, examination results, etc. But the peak usage is only for one or two months or at the most, three months’ time, and for the rest of the period, only 20-30 percent of the infrastructure is utilised. It is, therefore, extremely important to keep resource sharing in mind, so that when ever any government department needs it, they can procure the infrastructure, and the same resource is utilised and in turn optimised.

Lastly, the use of cloud helps in keeping duplication of official records at bay. Since every state is an independent entity, 27 versions of land records were found across the country. But if you have this kind of a technology, only one record would do. So, just imagine the amount of savings on investment and time, which is otherwise wasted on upkeep of so many versions of records. If you have an application which is configurable, fit for multiple usage and can be hosted centrally, then the whole cycle of deployment and maintenance can be hugely reduced.
That way, cloud is an extremely important and relevant technology for the Government of India; it is capable of bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we procure IT and applications, and deploy them across the country.

In June 2013, our policy and strategy was looked over and we came up with a clear vision to accelerate and optimise the cost using the benefits of the cloud. Our policy clearly says that applications have to be cloud-ready. We felt that the ecosystem has to be such that it provides fair competition in the country for both government and private cloud service providers to put through their services.

Fortunately, the government has the required policies, guidelines, frameworks and mechanisms in place to ensure that necessary concerns in the cloud, like security and privacy, are taken care of.

MeghRaj directory

The architecture of MeghRaj is such that it has space for multiple national and state clouds, and that of all other categories. The only binding principle is that these clouds would follow the norms laid down by the government.

But the important thing is that if there are several cloud providers, then how does one choose? So, we came up with the MeghRaj directory, wherein all those accredited to the Government of India to provide services would be registered. Besides, a single place was envisaged where everything would be available to every provider.

Integration challenges

One of the challenges is to integrate an existing application to the cloud. But today, we are still at a stage where we still need to have the relevant capacities. This is a highly specialised area. The private sector should also work in this area.

We have set up a governance mechanism to address the issue, called MeghRaj Apex Committee, which gives the necessary policy directions. Then we have an expert group where industry is going to help the government in formulating the policies and guidelines.

We are in the process of setting up a cloud management office to address the issue of accreditation, standards, capacity building, etc.
Our first national cloud MeghRaj was launched on Feb 4 this year, and currently, as many as 24 departments are accessing the cloud services. Besides, there are many more requests coming in. So, demand for cloud services is rising.

If you really want to deliver services fast, it is extremely important that you are in a position to acquire the facilitating technology fast — visit a store, select the required CPU, RAM, storage and you have the application

Beyond MeghRaj

Although we have the NIC national cloud, we want to see more cloud providers coming forward with their services. We are soon going to do a demand assessment across the country for the central and the state departments to understand their requirements in relation to the existing applications, nature of data and their willingness to go forward with new technologies. This all will give us a complete idea about their specific requirements.

We have also launched an app store, which we want to see as a market place — a place where the user departments can bring their requests, go and have a look and choose the application they want. In case it is not available there, the private players across the country serving the Government of India can provide their applications. I think this will provide a fair chance to the SMEs, because today it is very difficult for them to qualify in free bids. We would like to work with the industries to get ideas and know the directional strategy they think would be a win-win for both government and private sector.

This kind of platform will transform the way the government procures the applications across the country and I think that is the vision we are looking at.

Click here to Watch Renu Budhiraja Speaking Live

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