Thursday, 11 October 2012

GDS and Skyscape

The following open letter has been sent by email to ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken in his capacity as Executive Director, Government Digital Service (GDS) and Senior Responsible Officer Owner for the Cabinet Office's identity assurance programme (IdA). No response has been received:


Open letter [1]


Mike Bracken
Executive Director
Government Digital Service (GDS) 11 October 2012
Dear Mr Bracken

GDS and Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd

On 18 September 2012 GDS announced in a blog post [2] that it had contracted with Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd to host its “flagship platform” GOV.UK in the cloud [3]. The process was conducted “simply and rapidly”, it was “straightforward and quick” and is deemed to have delivered a “highly reliable [and] highly cost-effective ... flexible [and] scalable” result.
“It was easy”, says the man who wrote the post, “it was cheap, go and do it!”. This facetious approach cannot be what the public expects for GOV.UK, which is meant to replace every single central government website and to support every single transaction between the government on one side and the public – individuals, companies, trusts, etc ... – on the other.
GOV.UK is a big enterprise, even bigger than the Comment is free [4] website which you developed in your previous incarnation for the Guardian newspaper. Skyscape are meant to provide “Infrastructure as a Service” to support GOV.UK. Are they up to it?
Enquiries at Companies House reveal that Skyscape was incorporated as company no. 07619797 on 3 May 2011 and hasn’t yet submitted any accounts. It is impossible for the public therefore to assess the company’s track record and its financial strength. How did GDS make its assessment?
Skyscape may not have submitted any accounts but it has submitted an annual return as at 3 May 2012 according to which:
· It has no company secretary and just one director, Mr Jeremy Robin Sanders
· Skyscape has just £1,000 of paid-up share capital
· There is only one shareholder, the same Mr Sanders
· The company’s registered office is at Hartham Park, Hartham, Corsham, Wilts SN13 0RP
Questions must arise in the public’s mind whether Skyscape – being so new and so small – is a suitable company to host web access to all business transacted between the public and the government.
One share in Skyscape was held by Mr Jeffery (sic) Paul Thomas until 29 April 2012 when it was transferred to Mr Sanders. Skyscape mention on their website [5] a company called ARK Continuity Ltd. Enquiries at Companies House reveal that ARK Continuity has three directors, one of them being Mr Jeffrey (sic) Paul Thomas.
The other two directors are bankers appointed to protect the interests of Revcap Properties 25 Ltd, a property fund. ARK Continuity has filed accounts as at 30 April 2011 according to which its ultimate parent company is Real Estate Venture Capital Partners LLP.
According to its 16 December 2011 annual return:
· ARK Continuity has £16 of issued share capital, not all paid up
· Mr Thomas’s interest in the company is a nominal £3.20
· The company’s registered office is at Hartham Park, Hartham, Corsham, Wilts SN13 0RP
The business relationship between Skyscape and ARK Continuity is unclear. It is described as an “alliance” on the Skyscape website but what is an alliance in this case? It doesn’t look like a joint venture or a partnership. The question must arise in the public’s mind just what the business relationship is and what GDS are relying on to support all transactions between the government and the public.
ARK Continuity’s principal activity is “the design, construction and operation of data centres”. They’re a property company and naturally enough they proudly describe their major product, the Spring Park data centre, on their website [6] including a map how to get there and the address – Hartham Park, Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 0RP.
Skyscape, ARK Continuity and Spring Park all have the same address. It is possible that the location of the data centre which provides the infrastructure for all transactions between the government and the public has been advertised for everyone to see on ARK Continuity’s website – everyone including terrorists and hackers. That looks like a potential breach of security.
By this stage, Mr Bracken, you will agree that the decision to contract with Skyscape and the conduct of the business relationship so far appear dangerous, imprudent, ill-advised, unprofessional, wrong-headed, unbusinesslike, undignified and irresponsible. Could I ask you please to comment on these matters of public interest.
Yours sincerely
David Moss
cc Home affairs editors – the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the BBC




[1] GDS and Skyscape, http://www.dmossesq.com/2012/10/gds-and-skyscape.html
[2] Introducing a new supplier (Skyscape), http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/2012/09/18/introducing-a-new-supplier-skyscape/
[3] HMG's cloud computing strategy – there isn't one, http://www.dmossesq.com/2012/06/hmgs-cloud-computing-strategy-there.html
[4] Comment is free, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/uk-edition
[5] Skyscape Cloud Alliance, http://www.skyscapecloud.com/about/the-skyscape-cloud-alliance
[6] Spring Park, http://www.arkcontinuity.co.uk/contact-spring-park.html

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