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The Falkirk experience of building a hybrid cloud


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The council has shown how it is possible to develop a model that optimises public and private clouds while maintaining high levels of security, writes Andrew Puddephatt, director UK public sector of Nutanix

‘Cloud first’ might be a long term ambition for public authorities, but the demands of migrating applications, maintaining security and managing costs mean that for now most have their sights set on optimising the use of a hybrid cloud model in their digital infrastructure.

Falkirk Council is among those that have made significant progress, taking the ‘cloud as appropriate’ approach, with a combination of private and public clouds and its own data centre to provide the most suitable environment for each of its business applications.

“Cloud first is a journey,” says its team leader for network, infrastructure and cyber security, Murat Dilek. “We’ll get there one day, but not within the next few years.”

He says that, for the foreseeable future, Falkirk is focused on a hybrid cloud approach in which the Nutanix platform is playing an important role.

First steps

In 2019 the council began by looking at its applications and saw it could not even think about moving some of the latter to the cloud. But it already had Office 365 running in the Microsoft public cloud, and some virtualisation within its infrastructure with which it could work.

This prompted a focus on a hybrid model in which each application was assessed to see where best it works, taking into account the availability and costs of moving it to software-as-a-service or running it on a public cloud such as Azure or AWS.

It led to some legacy and Oracle based applications remaining within the council’s on-premise infrastructure, while some others – including its HR, housing, social care and disaster recovery  – are in public clouds.

As the third element, it has developed its private cloud on the Nutanix platform, utilising a virtual desktop infrastructure with 70 virtual servers and a 100 physical to virtual conversions, along with the appropriate back-up functions.

This has provided the advantages of private cloud: it is scalable on demand; brings down operational expense by reducing the amount of on-premise equipment to support; helps to automate workloads for streamlined processes and increased productivity; reduces the management overhead as the system can be monitored and maintained centrally; provides more options for business continuity through a fast recovery of applications and data; and reduces the floor space and carbon emissions of the on-premise data centre.

The platform has also provided the capability to extend more applications from the private to public cloud, or vice versa, when it is helps to optimise operations.

Seeking security

Along with this has been a focus on high security to underpin hybrid working during the pandemic, and a the outlook for a hybrid workplace over the long term. The council aimed to develop a zero trust access (ZTA) model, in which home workers had to enter the corporate network through a firewall and load balancer, then go into the virtual desktop infrastructure to access applications hosted in the data centre, and to move back out to those in public clouds.

ZTA is reinforced through a mutli-device management system that includes anti-virus endpoints, patch management, device restriction and encryption, and the need for complex passwords or phrases to permit entry. In addition, access to on-premise applications and resources goes through an encrypted tunnel, and the route back out to the internet involves local internet breakouts and web gateways with web filtering SSL inspection.

The results are that the system provides users with internet access with full inline inspection to ‘block the bad and protect the good’, and connects them to applications for which they are authorised, located in the data centre, public or private cloud. It does this while providing the same experience as if they were on premise.

This has created a situation in which Dilek says the internet has effectively become the new corporate network for Falkirk, with lower costs, increased reliability of applications, lower risks, scalability and the foundation for a more agile approach in the council’s digital operations.

Public sector trends

This is relevant to a couple of key trends for the public sector. One is in a gradual move away from using on-premise data centres. Research for the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index has shown that, while 25% of respondents from the sector are still deploying IT in traditional data centres, less than 5% expect to be doing so in three years’ time.

The other is that 64% expected to be operating in a multicloud environment within three years, and 83% agreed that a hybrid combining public and private clouds would be the ideal model. In this respect, the UK public sector is ahead of the norm.

But it comes with challenges, notably around managing the costs, security and integrating data across clouds. And the interoperability of multiple cloud environments and the ability to move applications from one to another is crucial.

The latter is often difficult to achieve, but the experience of Falkirk Council with the Nutanix platform shows it is possible. There is scope to build a hybrid cloud that meets all the demands and equips an organisation for a future of hybrid working and adoption of new applications. It is something all public sector bodies should explore.

Nutanix has a long history of enabling organisations in the health, public and higher education sectors to deliver cutting edge digital services through the adoption of a robust and scalable, multi-cloud strategy. For more information contact Andrew Puddephatt, Nutanix's UK director for the public sector, here 


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