Most days are slow for the public information website run by the China Earthquake Administration. But if a quake strikes, even in a remote area, the site’s hit count goes through the roof.
Wild, unpredictable spikes in demand for website access have in the past forced the CEA to own and operate its own servers. Those servers could handle a lot of traffic, but rarely was all that capacity put to use.
Then the cloud arrived. Since then, the geologists and disaster management officials who monitor and respond to China’s earthquakes have stopped working with banks of under-utilized servers.
Government agencies across the country have likewise decided that Internet cloud services make sense. By using the cloud, agencies save money, boost efficiency and security, and never have to worry about a sudden spike in online demand overloading in-house servers.
The CEA and other agencies are buying cloud computing services even though the government’s procurement procedures have yet to be fully developed. To be eligible for government contracts, cloud service providers must be certified by the Data Center Industry Alliance of China and pass the Trusted Cloud certification process.
Officials have also defined cloud services, service assessments and contract procedures, said Wang Ying, director of government procurement management at the Ministry of Finance. But a modern contract bidding system built by the government in recent years still applies only to one-time purchases of tangible goods, not cloud services.
As the shift to the technology accelerates, the finance ministry and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) are overseeing a top-to-bottom overhaul of the procurement system. The goal is to streamline cloud service deals.
“Cloud and big data services will be included in the government’s centralized procurement catalogue,” said Ni Yi, deputy director of the Central Government Procurement Center, without saying when the project may be completed. “Cloud services will also be included in government procurement budgets, which are being made flexible to ensure capital supply. Cloud services will also be included within government asset management.”
The procurement center already includes cloud terminals, cloud desktops and big data platforms as line-items on government supply contract documents, Ni said.
Work is underway to write standards for government cloud services, notably in the area of assessing and grading their servers. Domestic providers such as telecoms are jockeying for a chance to influence standards. In a first step, an MIIT research institute devised the Trusted Cloud certification system.
“The core problem regarding government procurement of cloud services is that we need standards,” said Ni.
Sources close to the finance ministry said that work is almost finished on a pilot plan for a government cloud procurement system. Central government agencies are expected to launch the country’s first pilots. The services would gradually be extended to other government areas.
“We may adopt mandatory pilots,” Ni said. “Our primary concern is deciding what percentage of projects should implement cloud procurement, establish a timeframe and set up a shortlist for the procurement.”
The next step would involve finalizing bidding procedures. Afterward, Ni said, procurement officers could choose from among the products appearing on procurement center-approved lists. The current list of providers is based on those certified by the data center alliance based on commercial, technical and service skills.
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