“Costs can quickly ramp up in the public cloud”
The UK’s cloud-first policy has been highly influential in shaping the British government’s IT buying habits over the last few years, writes Neil Stobart, VP, global system engineering at Cloudian Inc.
With more than £4.9 billion in cloud purchases made via the G-Cloud procurement framework since its launch in 2013 – 81 percent of this coming through central government – it has had a fundamental influence on how the public sector thinks about the way it accesses, manages and stores data, by encouraging the public sector to embrace more flexible and cost efficient infrastructure options. The success of the policy is most evident in how it has significantly widened the pool of IT products and services available to government organisations, with 45 percent coming from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
This, in turn, has served to advance both cloud adoption and the provision of digital public services, working in parallel with the G-Cloud framework to act as a driver for cutting costs and enabling scalability within Whitehall and the wider public sector.
However, despite its positive impact, the policy is currently being reviewed by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and Government Digital Service (GDS). So, with adjustments likely to be incoming, is this a sign of how IT’s wider perception of data storage is changing?
A Shifting Target
When the Cloud First Policy was first introduced, it instructed all central government departments to take a public cloud-first approach to technology purchases. Public sector organisations were encouraged to “consider and fully evaluate potential [public] cloud solutions first before considering any other option” when procuring new or existing services, all in the name of ensuring value for money.
But a lot can happen in six years, particularly in the cloud world where the pace of innovation has continued. Although demand for public cloud is still growing – Gartner predicts the worldwide public cloud services market will grow from $182.4 billion in 2019 to $331 billion by 2022 – mindsets are certainly shifting.
To understand the changes that are taking place, we just have to look at the general adoption of cloud infrastructure across multiple industries. For example, when businesses first started adopting public cloud they were drawn in by various benefits such as the ability to outsource key management responsibilities, attain the scalability needed to support a growing business and – most notably – achieve cost savings. Fast-forward six years and we’re now seeing organisations reconsider their strategy due to factors such as unexpected costs and growing security concerns in the public cloud.
Businesses are realising that a one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t the answer given the complexity of modern IT infrastructure. Today, organisations have challenging cost, security and compliance requirements that need to be met, prompting many to think more carefully about where to store their data. As a result, they are embracing a hybrid approach that incorporates a combination of on-premises, private and public cloud platforms.
Get With the Times
The move to a hybrid strategy is a definite trend that we’re seeing across the IT space, and something that the UK public sector is right for acknowledging.
From a cost perspective, businesses in many industries have realised that costs can quickly ramp up in the public cloud – especially if data needs to be accessed regularly. Some providers charge by access and usage, which may not represent value for money as organisations and their data grow. However, this lack of clarity about the exact costs involved isn’t an issue with on-premises and private cloud systems, meaning businesses don’t have to worry about being hit by unexpected charges. A hybrid approach provides the best of both worlds with specific workloads configured to ensure hot data is stored on-premises and only cold data moved to public cloud. This puts a control on excessive spending on frequently accessed data.
A hybrid approach can also offer several security and compliance benefits – both vital considerations for government entities. While public cloud isn’t inherently insecure, organisations have less control in ensuring the security of their data. In contrast, on-premises infrastructure provides assurances that the data is within the organisation’s protected environment and that only a select number of people are able to access it.
This feeds into the compliance issue, which is a key concern for both the public and private sector. On-premises systems make it easier for organisations to know exactly where their data lies, which is invaluable for compliance purposes and ideal for workloads containing sensitive information such as government records.
Ultimately, the UK’s Cloud First Policy has served to make government bodies aware and comfortable around the benefits of the cloud. But the government now understands that it doesn’t need to direct all of its funds to public cloud to see all the benefits cloud brings – in keeping with the wider industry trend of hybrid cloud adoption and, as a result, data repatriation.
Government bodies should be free to enjoy all options to reflect the full spectrum of storage innovation if they really want to achieve value for money, which is why the focus on hybrid cloud options is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The re-evaluation of the Cloud First Policy is very much a sign of the times and will likely turn out to be a positive move for the UK public sector.