“The choice of cloud service providers can prove overwhelming”
The demands of a growing population, living longer than ever, are putting increasing pressure on a range of public services – from housing and healthcare, to education and road maintenance, writes Leighton James, CTO at UKCloud.
This pressure is exacerbated by ever decreasing budget cuts, requiring organisations across the public sector to do more with less.
Given this need to increase efficiencies and cut costs, most public sector IT leaders appreciate the importance of hosting their systems and services in the cloud and the potential it offers for greater scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
Despite understanding its benefits, many will find migrating to the cloud a somewhat daunting prospect. Concerns over the time it will take can be off-putting, even though a migration will actually save time in the long run. Furthermore, the choice of cloud service providers can prove overwhelming. But, by stepping back and taking a strategic approach, public sector organisations can make the transition from on-premise to the cloud with minimum stress.
Cloud Migration in the Public Sector
The cloud is seen by many public service organisations as a key enabler for
transformation, that will allow them to move away from legacy software and hardware to more modern, modular, and open systems.
A multi-cloud approach, comprising all major cloud environments such as Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform has a number of additional benefits. As well as avoiding lock-in with a single cloud service provider it also allows organisations to take a hybrid approach, in which they can incorporate their own private cloud infrastructure. The greater collaboration and information sharing this enables between different systems, services and applications are vital in allowing the public sector to deliver more seamlessly joined-up services.
When you consider these benefits, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the public sector is no stranger to the cloud. A 2018 report by Eduserv found that 62 percent of local councils used some form of cloud to deliver organisational IT services.
Indeed, the UK government has been advocating use of the cloud for some time. Introduced in 2013, its “Cloud First” policy encourages organisations to “consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first” when procuring new or updating existing systems. As a result, over £4 billion in transactions had been made through the government’s G-Cloud procurement framework by the end of 2018 across over 1,600 suppliers and more than 2,000 customers.
The sheer size of the marketplace and the range of available options can be intimidating for organisations looking to move from legacy on-premise infrastructure to the cloud. Faced with myriad existing systems, technologies and contracts that must be untangled, many have neither the capacity or expertise to properly focus on turning their vision for transformation into a coherent and executable plan.
Four Steps to Success
Without a plan, an organisation’s use of the cloud will be largely tactical and piecemeal. Maintaining control of these new cloud services while also keeping their existing IT provisions on track will be hugely challenging. Following these four steps will help public sector IT leaders stay on top of their move to the cloud.
Assess – before undertaking any migration, organisations should assess the maturity and understand the cost of their existing IT investment. Doing so will help them to better plan their cloud strategy. An understanding of their specific needs, for example, will put organisations in a position to more effectively evaluate the options available for migration to IaaS, PaaS, & SaaS services, and subsequently build the business case and procurement material that will help them achieve these more quickly.
Migrate – once the strategy has been defined, the next step is to migrate an organisation’s critical business systems and datacentres from the legacy silos in which they currently reside to a new secure, hybrid multi-cloud platform. When doing so, it’s important to understand the criticality of these applications, and how they interact with each other. For example, an organisation’s website might have many components that it is dependent on like webservers, databases, content management systems, reporting services, firewalls, VPN’s or Active Directory.
It’s crucial to remember that when migrating to a hybrid multi-cloud platform you ensure that the webservers, databases, directories and networking are moved to a platform such as vCloud using high availability features to ensure they are resilient to failure. Aspects of the system such as content management or reporting, which don’t require the highest level of uptime, can be migrated in a less resilient configuration which saves cost. This way, workloads can be migrated in the right order, to the right platform, and sized appropriately, thereby ensuring all the benefits promised by a hybrid multi-cloud strategy.
Optimise – this step is vital for those organisations that have migrated their legacy technology to the cloud but have yet to fully realise the full benefits it can provide. Carrying out an assessment of their cloud environment, with a particular focus on its commercial, technical and security characteristics, will enable organisations to tweak their ways of working in order to deliver greater operational efficiency and cost savings. For example, if workloads have been migrated into an environment such as OpenStack, the organisation can take advantage of scheduling to turn development servers off out of hours, monitoring can be used to show if services are stressed or underutilised so they can be rightsized. Monitoring can be used in OpenShift to scale applications by dynamically creating, or deleting, instances depending on load. The organisation might also decide to use an AIOps service like Moogsoft, which reduce the amount of time an operations team spends on detecting issues and give them more time to fix issues.
Transform – a cloud-native approach to building and running applications is required for an organisation to fully exploit the advantages of the cloud. However, using cloud-native services often requires a radically different approach to developing and deploying applications. It’s important, therefore, to ensure that an organisation’s development team has the expertise necessary to adopt this new way of working. Cloud Native applications fully utilise features like autoscaling, message queues, object storage and containerisation, for example, and the infrastructure is comprised of complex code, so it’s crucial teams are equipped to manage and maintain these components. As their DevOps capabilities mature, an organisation might store their infrastructure as code & application code in Git for source control and enable continuous delivery via automated pipelines in Jenkins, which automatically tests everything using Selenium before deploying to a scalable containerised platform such as OpenShift.
The public sector, in common with businesses everywhere, is looking to the cloud for greater flexibility, innovation, and cost savings. Concerns over complexity and time can hold organisations back from enjoying these benefits, though. But, by taking a strategic approach to assessment, migration, optimisation and transformation, these concerns can be overcome and the true value of the cloud unlocked for organisations and their customers alike.