Industry voice: Optimising the IT infrastructure will do a lot to provide a clear return on investment in cloud services but you must also measure and prove that return, writes Steve Foster, solutions architect at Riverbed
A strong consensus has become established on the advantages of cloud computing, and software-as-a-service (Saas) applications. But many public authorities are moving slowly in their adoption and still a long way from obtaining the full benefits.
There is a sense that, despite the promise of long term savings and productivity, organisations often struggle to overcome the immediate barriers or make a case for the internal resources and spend on moving to the cloud. They need to be able to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) in areas where they have made the transition, and provide the visibility into the applications and infrastructure that form the delivery of cloud and SaaS services.
A cloud migration is more likely to bring results when the two go hand-in-hand. Different elements of this did arise from a recent UKA Live discussion which I took part in with David Tidey, head of IT for the London Boroughs of Richmond and Wandsworth, Ben Nelson, head of commercial at the Police ICT Company, and Helen Olsen, publisher of UKAuthority.
It became clear that there are challenges in moving to the cloud, not least in uncertainty about how it could affect the user experience. This can be down to a number of factors, including the way user devices are set up and their reliance on public internet and mobile networks in working with cloud applications.
Need for evidence
The move to cloud managed services can have an effect on an organisation’s employees and their internal systems as well as the public for online services. If not managed correctly, it’s likely to impact productivity and undermine the quality of services. Assessing the extent of this has been difficult as it’s traditionally based on user feedback, with no clear evidence on how devices and networks are affecting performance.
Other issues also have to be addressed. There should be a strong emphasis on the ROI from migration, taking in not just financial savings but improvements in overall efficiency. This involves establishing clear benchmarks, not just on the costs of running legacy systems but the performance of digital networks and measures of productivity.
Organisations also have to look closely at the end-user experience. If users struggle with a cloud application, it will undermine its effectiveness, hinder the delivery of the relevant services and have a negative effect on internal morale and the public’s perception of an organisation. In turn, it will also hit the ROI, making it harder to achieve the desired financial and efficiency benefits from a migration.
These impose stiff demands, but a lot can be done to overcome them through rationalising the digital infrastructure. This makes a big contribution to enhancing performance and reducing the total cost of ownership. A big part of this is in networks, along with their connections to the public internet and wireless services. The performance of cloud services can be affected greatly by weak points and bottlenecks that squeeze bandwidth and create latency.
IT teams need to continually monitor network performance and there are tools in the market today that enable them to quickly identify the root cause of any problems. Software defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) provides a means of dynamically identifying pressure points and automatically reconfiguring without delay, contributing to a better user experience of cloud applications.
These benefits can be further reinforced by using cloud hosted network services available for requirements such as cyber security rather than keeping them in-house. Their providers tend to be specialists with a level of expertise in the specific services above that of in-house teams, and they should come at a price that helps to reduce the overall costs.
They also need to monitor the end-user experience, using the relevant tools to understand how devices, infrastructure and other applications are affecting performance. These can be applied to individual apps and devices with analytics to identify trends, pinpoint problems and correct them more quickly.
It makes it possible to test how cloud services work on a wide range of devices, from different manufacturers on different operating systems, and whether other applications can cause problems. Adjustments should be made to deal with any shortcomings, effectively optimising the user experience of a cloud service.
Rationalising software assets also makes an important contribution. It is common for organisations to pay for licences that go unused, which could undermine the gains from switching to cloud. The move to optimise IT infrastructure should involve looking at these and releasing those that aren’t necessary.
A council's experience
David Tidey, head of IT for the London Boroughs of Richmond and Wandsworth, spoke about how Riverbed is helping their two authorities optimise their cloud operations. By deploying technology from Riverbed, it has allowed them to get the best from Office 365, which has been designed primarily for Windows 10, in the council's environment. A particular challenge they had faced was how to manage shared folders, which was working very slowly, but Riverbed has successfully enabled the council to fully optimise the process.
The council is also piloting a tool that enables their IT team to identify how long files are taking to reach users on remote sites in its network, aiming to identify the bottlenecks and thereby enabling information to be accessed far more quickly than before.
Underlying the discussion was an agreement on the opportunities presented by cloud and software-as-a-service: cost savings, enabling mobile working, providing a more agile IT infrastructure and improving productivity. But it comes with challenges that have slowed down adoption in many organisations and it is possible to overcome them with technology solutions that optimise the user and network environments. The right choices can overcome the uncertainties and prove the ROI to add momentum to the migration.
Choosing a technology partner that can help to optimise the infrastructure, with complete visibility of networks, and applications, is a big step towards making this happen. Riverbed has the expertise and tools to help to explore the possibilities further.
You can email Riverbed direct or click on the links below for details.
This is just a taste of the points to emerge during the UKA Live discussion. You can watch the full recording here.
Image by Jenny Jimenez, CC BY 2.0 through flickr