At least one UK council is set to go completely ICT "infrastructure-free" within two years - with no locally hosted servers or business applications - using a mix of public and private cloud services, one supplier has told UKAuthority.com.
Public cloud services are available to anyone over the internet; while private cloud services can offer stronger security and greater certainty about where servers are sited.
"It is impractical for councils to move all their workload into a public cloud environment for a number of reasons," Nigel Moulton, chief technology officer for Europe at cloud service provider VCE, told UKAuthority.com.
"The first is data sovereignty - there are certain types of public data where you want sovereignty, and security".
The answer is for councils to take a hybrid approach combining public and private cloud systems, with their IT departments switching to more of a strategic role, Moulton says.
"The IT department will come away from having lots of people operating and building ICT and move more towards a service governance role, working with the rest of the business to understand how technology can help an operation thrive, add value.
"They will be focusing on the business, not on thinking 'When do I upgrade a server?'"
Another key advantage of running systems in the cloud is more efficient management of variations in demand, says Paul Birkin, chief technology officer at Capita IT Services, which has worked with VCE to develop a private cloud infrastructure. And for local authorities, this tends to be dictated by the timing of council tax collection, Birkin said.
"In most cases, councils show 85% usage for just two months a year, which is driven by council tax processing - it is the two months at the end of the financial year which hits systems really hard.
"There is also a rise at the month end. But if you look at the rest of the working month, most councils are not heavy users of computer power. For most of the year, they are running at about 10% usage, sometimes as low as 1%. So ICT can mean a huge amount of operational and capital expenditure cost for something they hardly ever use."
In contrast, cloud providers can offer flexible capacity, since they serve a range of organisations across both public and private sectors at the same time, all with different demand profiles, Birkin said.
He agreed that data sovereignty and security is the biggest challenge for public sector bodies in moving to cloud services, and said that while many of these fears were more founded on perception than reality even for public cloud services, "perception rules".
However the security of private cloud services meant that most applications could already be moved there, he said. "There will be some areas where councils will always be cautious, for example children's services, but they could move the majority of their data such as finance and human resources to UK-based cloud services now."
In fact, security of modern cloud systems is such that there is no reason why councils could not move all their applications into the cloud, Birkin said.
"There is no reason why they can't go completely - it will take a brave council to do it, because of the perception, but we are currently working with a council who is saying will move 95% of their infrastructure to Capita private cloud over 18 months. Then within 24 months, it will move the other 5%."
Pictured: Nigel Moulton, chief technology officer for Europe, VCE
Capita Private Cloud: www.capita-its.co.uk/solutions/Pages/CapitaPrivateCloud.aspx