Public authorities have to face up to some complexities in delivering a cloud infrastructure, writes Andrew Puddephatt, head of public sector at Nutanix
The Government Digital Service recently injected a new momentum into the debate about cloud computing in the public sector.
Its reiteration of the ‘cloud first’ policy came with an acknowledgement that different models work best for different organisations – with places for hybrid and multi-cloud – and serves as a reminder that it is essentially an operating model for the delivery of services and applications to citizens, patients, students and others.
There are options in which type to choose: using a public cloud in which the data resides off-site and its management is ceded to the service provider; or private clouds -either off-site in a dedicated, modern cloud technology environment or on-site - in which the organisation does not share the server estate with any others and has total control.
Private cloud is often spoken about in terms being 'just an old-fashioned on-premise data centre'. But if data centres - both on-site or off-site - are modernised and hypervirtualised on the latest cloud technologies then the user experience and performance is 'cloud'. Thus the choice comes down to whether commodity public cloud or private cloud is more appropriate for your organisation's needs.
For any organisation the challenge is to find the best balance between the two, and with the flexibility to transfer data and services between them as circumstances demand. This involves avoiding a long term lock-in for any service. In short, it needs a smart approach to harnessing the cloud.
This leads to the concept of ‘smart cloud’, a the topic of a recent UKA Live discussion between myself, Mark Walker, head of ICT at Derby City Council, Dan Holmes, head of infrastructure at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS Trust, and UKAuthority publisher Helen Olsen Bedford.
There was an acknowledgement from Walker that Derby’s initial approach to cloud migration did not go well, with an initial emphasis on public cloud leading to a poor fit for some legacy applications and a subsequent sharp increase in costs. The council has had to repatriate many workloads back to private cloud systems before it can fully understand how to its onward march to cloud. A more measured migration is now in the pipeline that will take into account the sensitivity of data, availability of 'cloud ready' legacy applications and the ever rapid evolution of technology.
Derby's experience suggests that interpreting ‘cloud first’ as a rush to migrate to commodity public cloud can often create more problems than it solves when it comes to the legacy estate that exists across much of the public sector.
By contrast, Holmes emphasised the importance of structure and control in the hospital trust’s approach. It is maintaining a strong emphasis on its own data centre, where it has worked with Nutanix to bring hypervirtualistion and a platform approach to reduce its number of workloads, servers and storage area networks. The trust has a ‘best of breed’ approach to technology services in which it is ready to look at public cloud options and migrate specific services when the time is right, and believes that its now 'clean' environment will make it possible to do so in a structured and controlled manner.
Tailor the service
The discussion brought out the importance of being able to tailor how an organisation uses a cloud technology platform, with more scope for this in a private cloud. Against this the public cloud, and many of the related software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, are easier to tap into for short term demands and are often more cost-effective.
Decisions will also be affected by the type of data held and the relevant information governance regulations – the more stringent, the stronger the organisational pressure to retain the data in-house. Making the choices can be something of a minefield, and the advice to emerge was to always speak with IT and information governance teams before making decisions.
The discussion also highlighted the possibilities of reducing an organisation’s hardware estate. Although there are doubts that it could be completely eradicated, it could be a viable aim for many authorities to move around 80% of their infrastructure into the cloud. The hybrid model makes it possible for an organisation to test what works and move gradually towards this target, or one that is more appropriate for its needs.
All this has taken Nutanix towards the idea of ‘cloud smart’, taking an intelligent and flexible approach to the use of public and private clouds. It can provide the right combination - powering a private cloud, providing a platform for the future and managing change in hybrid mix over a timescale that leaves scope for dealing with complications and reduces risk.
We have tools that help an organisation to manage everything from on-premise to off-site private and public clouds. At the core is the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud, which provides a single point of control for all of an organisation’s applications and data, across all of its clouds.
It can automate ‘lift and shift’ migrations between clouds, decouple application management from the underlying infrastructure, manage the governance of cloud services and determine the applications available to specific users from the relevant cloud systems.
A key feature in the platform is its architecture, which makes it possible to automate management and control all the elements of a hybrid cloud through a single piece of software - needing fewer people to manage the infrastructure, freeing people for innovation, and providing scalability and flexibility for an agile approach.
In addition there is a capability to manage the distribution of workloads within the platform and out on public clouds such as Azure and AWS, with the ability to transfer them as required; and another to assess costs against security and governance to make recommendations which workloads and applications should be run on which platforms.
In short, a valuable tool for any public sector organisation developing a cloud smart approach.
Catch up now with the UKA Live expert panel discussion on how to deliver the best of both worlds - the simplicity and agility of public cloud plus the performance, security and control of private cloud:
For more information on Nutanix technologies or to discuss the themes from the live webcast, email email@example.com