Whitehall sticks knife deeper into legacy IT with data centre deal

The Cabinet Office has created a joint venture to host government data all in one place, saving an estimated 105 million over seven years.

Crown Hosting Data Centres is the lovechild of Ark Data Centres and the Cabinet Office, and will host public sector data that's not already up in the cloud.

The creation of the company is Whitehall's attempt to tackle individual departments' tendency to outsource hosting or even build their own data centres, all at varying but generally expensive costs.

"It doesn't make sense for departments to host their servers in different ways and at different costs, and in the past Whitehall wasn't even sure how many of these centres there were," said Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office.

"With this new joint venture, we will save millions and be able to access the necessary commercial and technical skills in the market to create a thriving new business that will deliver better services and allow government to share in its future success."

In fact, users will be able to use the service on a pay for what you use' basis, in order to avoid being locked into long-term contracts.

Ovum analyst Chris Pennell told IT Pro: "My understanding is that it is aimed at hoovering up all non-cloud based hosting and data centre requirements that reside in legacy contracts.

"The approach is interesting, as it is effectively saying we do not believe the traditional approach has worked."

Initial customers are the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Highways Agency, but the Cabinet Office plans to open the service up to all departments, and the wider public sector.

"The joint venture company will simplify the data centre services selection process in government and further drive the unbundling of large legacy contracts," said Steve Hall, CEO at Crown Hosting Data Centres.

Maude has previously stated that Whitehall would be free of its last legacy contract by 2020, as the government aims to replace outsourced IT with Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP).

This initiative will see services largely created in-house, and Ovum analyst Chris Pennell said at the time that government could become its own monopoly supplier.

The latest news may add evidence to that claim, with the government retaining a 25 per cent stake in Crown Hosting Data Centres.

Ark will own a 75 per cent share of the joint venture, after signing a 495,000, two-year deal with the Ministry of Defence in December 2014 to provide data centre services.

"We are extremely proud to be selected as the joint venture partner and look forward to working together to drive real transformational change across the provision of the Government's data centre services," said Huw Owen, Ark CEO. "We are committed to realising the huge potential cost benefits for the UK public purse."