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Cloud security concerns persist as GDS reviews guidance

A cross-Whitehall drive to migrate more workloads into the public cloud is faltering amid persistent concerns about the security of the technology, according to new research.

A UKCloud survey of more than 300 senior technology professionals revealed that security concerns and anxieties about vendor lock-in and cost remain the biggest barriers to cloud adoption in the public sector.

Some 85 per cent of survey respondents said their organisation was reluctant to move workloads to the cloud due to security reasons, while 78 per cent said an over-reliance on a single provider was hindering their cloud adoption.

In 2013, the Government Digital Service (GDS) introduced a cloud first policy aimed at accelerating the adoption of the technology across Whitehall. Under the guidance, if an IT manager chooses to deploy new technology on-premise, they must justify the decision.

But last year, GDS and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) unveiled plans to revise the policy. Speaking to NS Tech in October, Niall Quinn, CCS’s technology director, said the decision was “an acknowledgement that public cloud first for everybody is not doable in the short to medium term”.

He added: “You need to acknowledge that [on-premise hosting] can still exist and there’s some on-prem for security reasons as well, but it’s on prem, some private and some public as well – that’s the more sensible solution.”

However, less than two weeks after NS Tech published Quinn’s remarks, GDS issued a statement contradicting them. “Our plan, as informed by user research, is to keep the policy as it stands,” wrote GDS’s technology policy officials.

“It’s not being revised, reissued or renamed. Instead, we’re looking at ways to better meet users’ needs around cloud, predominantly by providing more detailed guidance and support.”

Three in four of the public sector tech leaders surveyed by UKCloud said a lack of clear policies and strategy was a factor slowing down cloud adoption. Simon Hansford, the chief executive of UKCloud, said: “The issues raised in the report are being addressed at a policy level in government at the moment. There is no perfect cloud solution – rather different clouds to meet different needs. UK public sector organisations need choice and options in order to meet demand for cloud-based data and workloads.

“Organisations understand cloud-first is not cloud-only. Some of them, like the Food Standards Agency, have already fully moved to the public cloud. Others, like the Ministry of Defence, have a hybrid, multi-cloud strategy.

“The public sector understands the detail of the policy, including the fact it enables organisations to form a cloud strategy that’s right for them. Different organisations face different sets of challenges when it comes to cloud, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”