The Cabinet Office has announced that the government's G-Cloud online appstore, Cloudstore, is open for business.
Some 257 suppliers have been named as suppliers in the framework, including larger companies such as BT, CSC, Computacenter, EMC, Microsoft and Logica.
According to analyst TechMarketView, around half of the suppliers on the framework are SMEs, and include cloud computing hosting provider ElasticHosts, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider HTK, enterprise cloud control provider CohesiveFT and cloud consultants ZumZum, have also been named on the contract.
The Cloudstore - built by UK SME SolidSoft on Microsoft Windows Azure - will enable public sector organisations to purchase off-the-shelf IT services on a pay-as-you-go basis. As part of the government's transparency agenda, and to encourage competition, the service details and pricing information are open to all on CloudStore, and contracts for services should be no longer than one year.
The government anticipates the G-Cloud framework will transform the way that the public sector procures ICT services.
Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, said: "Purchasing services from Cloudstore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike."
Maude added that the CloudStore also offers SME suppliers the same opportunities as larger organisations. The government recently revealed that just 12 percent of government contracts are awarded to SMEs, which is some way off its target of giving smaller suppliers 25 percent of business.
This has been welcomed by SMEs. Justin Bowser, managing director of HTK, described the CloudStore as a "game changer".
"Lots of SMEs struggle [to work with government] because the actual and perceived barriers to entry have been very high. There has been an attitude in government - not everywhere - that SMEs are going to be difficult to deal with or that they will not deliver.
"G-Cloud is a real game changer. It is on one side a very tangible, visible demonstration of the way government want sot change the way it procures. From a procurer point of view, it doesn't give them an excuse not to look at SMEs, because it is such a high profile demonstration. I don't think SMEs can be ignored anymore," said Bowser, who sits on the government's SME panel looking at how to help new suppliers into government.
Richard Davies, CEO of ElasticHosts, added: "As a UK vendor delivering Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), we are expecting a great deal of interest. Everyone from local authorities to healthcare strusts are finding that their IT infrastructures are creaking and in desperate need of refresh, yet they don't have the capital budgets to do so. Services available through the catalogue will ease this, as no cap-ex [capital expenditure] is required and deployment costs are eradicated."
"As a UK vendor delivering Infrastructure-as-a-Service, we are expecting a great deal of interest. Everyone from local authorities to healthcare trusts are finding that their IT infrastructures are creaking and in desperate need of refresh, yet they don't have the capital budgets to do so. Services available through the catalogue will ease this as no cap-ex is required and deployment costs are eradicated."
However, TechMarketView analyst Tola Sargeant, had some reservations about SME's capability to deliver services reliably in the short term.
"After a quick play with CloudStore, it's clear it is designed very much as a 'catalogue' for commodity products - it's difficult to compare companies on the basis of anything but price. It will undoubtedly drive much faster adoption of cloud services, provide greater visibility for SMEs, lead to a more competitive market and save the government money in the long term.
"But in the short term, my concern is whether some of the smaller suppliers on the framework have the capability to provide services required reliably at volume," she said.