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UK.gov pops lid off £700m barrel of non-Cloudable hosting pork

Come and get it while it's still porky, shouts Cabinet Office

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The Cabinet Office is seeking a joint venture partner to help it tackle what it describes as one of the most costly areas of public sector tech – hosting.

Crown Hosting (CHS), along with Government Digital Services, is hunting for a "private sector partner" to take a minimum 75 per cent stake in a joint venture vehicle to provide data centre colocation services.

Notification in the Official Journal of the European Union, pushed out to prospective suppliers late last week, estimates the contract to be worth between £50m to £700m over four years.

"This prior information notice relates to the creation of non-cloud hosting services capability including the provision, installation, maintenance and operation of IT systems; Data Centre LAN services; Data Centre interoperability and the provision of facilities and equipment from at least two separate locations and available in multiple regions".

The scale of the proposed service is still under discussion with departments and agencies but the initial scope is for 550 1U servers. The bit barns must be capable of "housing computer infrastructure" that handles data with a UK government information security classification of Official, and the service should be designed as a buffer for apps not yet ready or suitable to be delivered via the cloud.

In a blog post, government CTO Liam Maxwell said hosting was "one of the largest categories of technology spend in government".

"The way that we used to run procurement - with hosting for particular projects and programmes being procured tactically - led to a huge estate which is ripe for consolidation".

But he revealed there is a “large legacy estate” that cannot make the move to cloud in line with the “cloud first” policy for central government procurement, because "this tin requires some form of ongoing hosting provision".

The joint venture data centre biz will "deliver the legacy facilities and infrastructure services for those applications that cannot transfer to the cloud."

The service will be available to the entire public sector but early customers will be the Home Office, Highways Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions, the OJEU contract notice reveals. Initial demand from DWP may require the successful private sector bidder to have server farms that can provide latency of less than 0.5 milliseconds with the department's current sites in the North East of England.

The OJEU notice revealed suppliers need to show they can scale services to 3,750 1U servers to meet future demand, and that GDS remains "committed" to the cloud first policy.

"All new applications are expected to be 'cloud ready'. CHS will service existing Her Majesty's Govenrment estate that cannot or has yet to migrate to the cloud," the notice stated. It added there may be a "future requirement" for the server farm supplier to provide co-lo services that handle data with the “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET” classification.

Maxwell stated in his blog the government also intends to establish an Infrastructure-as-a-service for applications that are capable of virtualisation but "require closer proximity" to legacy hardware.

A separate OJEU notice for the procurement of this framework, a smaller service layer which sits immediately above colocation services in the hosting stacks" is due to be published in October, the CTO said.

Central government splashed some £1.6bn on hosting services in fiscal '12 but the Cabinet Office was not able to provide more up-to-date figures. ®

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