The experience of Shropshire Council and guidance from Socitm highlight the potential for agility in a combination of public and private cloud, writes Andrew Puddephatt, director public sector at Nutanix
A strong preference for a digital infrastructure based on hybrid cloud is emerging across the public sector, but it needs a flexible approach and a skilled hand in managing the balance of workloads and applications across the different services used.
An increasing number of organisations have begun delivering services through private and hybrid clouds, using the services of the hyperscalers to free IT teams from managing infrastructure and give them more time to focus on innovation and building better services.
Shropshire County Council is among those now claiming the benefits of the model. Its infrastructure lead Stuart Bland told the recent UKAuthority Powering Digital Public Services conference that it had been mixing public and private clouds since the early 2010s but saw the need for a more comprehensive approach when its website went offline after a surge in traffic on the day snowstorms coincided with the release of secondary school offers.
It had identified other problems in the legacy infrastructure, such as different refresh cycles for applications and that it spent too much time firefighting, and saw increasing its use of cloud as a means to dealing with these.
The council realised it was not ready for a wholesale migration but developed a roadmap to a hybrid model involving a dispersal of functions: telephony, the contact centre, education management systems, mapping and remote access to an on-premise private cloud; its ERP, CRM, social care and regulatory services systems on a hosted public cloud; and email, file sharing, identity management, website management, integration hub and citizen access positioned to be moved between the two on a mixed cloud.
It also obtained support from Nutanix with its multi-cloud platform to simplify management of the existing private cloud and lay the ground for unified management of a hybrid model.
Better performance, smaller footprint
This led to a sharp reduction in performance problems in virtual machines and telecoms and the need for firefighting, along with a reduction in the on-premise footprint from six server cabinets to one, an associated cut in the council’s carbon footprint, and the capacity to respond to changes in demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the quantifiable benefits has been that the time needed for infrastructure upgrades has shrunk from three months to three days.
For its next steps, Shropshire is planning to review its business processes and future work patterns, identify the right technologies for improvements, to emphasise the use of Microsoft Forms for engagement with the public, and a further adoption of public cloud services within the hybrid.
“It now feels like we have the right tools and the right direction,” Bland said. “It’s not just about technology – we’ve also invested heavily in people in the IT space and business analysts and are supported by business partners – but it feels like the tide is starting to turn and people want to work with us.”
Nutanix has worked with over 160 public authorities on harnessing the hybrid cloud, and seen the emergence of positive lessons that align with three elements of guidance in the recent Cloud Computing report by public sector IT association Socitm.
Mobility between platforms
One involves the development of hybrid cloud strategy, using a combination of private and public cloud as appropriate for running workload and applications. We add that it is important to have mobility between the platforms used, as the adoption of a hybrid works best as an iterative approach in which the right balance of public and private could turn out different to the original plan. The ability to move an application from one to the other can raise performance in the long term and reduce the risk of creating new siloes and layers of technical debt.
The second involves addressing the infrastructure, looking at the existing applications to see which can be migrated to cloud and which should be decommissioned. This takes time and comes at a cost, but it will ensure that the new infrastructure does not carry over some of the problems of the old one, and lay the ground for a better performance in supporting services.
The third is to define, agree on and share the benefits and inhibitors of the migration. It is necessary to identify what business outcomes are desired, how the change will support innovation, where it can produce savings and what challenges are likely to arise. This requires clear criteria for data, security and the commercial considerations for each of the workloads, and can help to ensure the new infrastructure is well placed to meet any challenges.
It is a model that provides a foundation for the flexible management of workloads and applications to scale up their activity and provide new services in response to changing demands – and provides a crucial element in the digital transformation of the public sector.
UKAuthority in partnership with Nutanix has recently published ‘Digital positives from the pandemic’ – looking at how 2020 changed the outlook for the public sector's use of digital, data and technology. Fill in the form to download the full UKA Inform report.
Image iStock, AndyRoland