The future of government IT is a hybrid one
Tim Hearn, director, UK Government and Public Services at VMware says the potential to make fundamental changes to government through Digital Services is huge. But cloud services adoption must be tackled in a way that doesn't ignore the value of existing infrastructure
The public sector is leading the UK in the adoption of public cloud services and there is not a meeting that I attend where Amazon or Azure is not part of the discussion. It is great to see the acceptance and management of risk, the willingness to adopt new technologies and services and the creativity that has been embraced by the UK government through its Cloud First and Digital strategies.
As part of this, some departments are determined to be 'Infrastructure Free', with the desire to shed the shackles of systems integrators, outsourcers and managed services in favour of public cloud providers. This assumes, however, that the systems which currently run the core services of government can be can be left to die over time, in isolation, while brand new services are created in the cloud.
The reality is that, although 'Infrastructure Free' provides an aspirational direction for IT teams and suppliers, the architecture of government IT will remain a hybrid one for some years to come. The trick, therefore, will be to marry the best of both worlds; avoid being burdened by the overhead and legacy costs of past managed services, while adopting public cloud services into which services can be transitioned with enterprise-grade security, high resilience, true portability and transparent cost management.
The potential to make fundamental changes to government through Digital Services is huge, provided that the adoption of cloud services is done with everyone's eyes wide open and in a way that doesn't ignore the value of existing infrastructure. When looking at adopting public cloud services, there are a few things organisations need to consider.
Security - in an environment where a workload can reside on-premises or in a variety of public clouds, security needs to be tied to the workload and not the physical infrastructure. Once security policy is applied to the application workload, it should be able to travel with the workload so there is security consistency that is not tied to geography. In a cloud world, all infrastructure is treated as untrusted and security is focused on the application and data integrity, where most of the threats are targeted.
Resilience - a hybrid cloud strategy means that resiliency should be significantly higher than older primary/backup resiliency approaches. Workloads can be moved around many different clouds and on-premise environments, automatically, in response to failure but also increases in demand – using clouds to dynamically top up capacity when needed. Capabilities exist today to move services between clouds and private data centres on the fly, completely invisible to users and without service disruption.
Portability - there are similarities between some clouds and traditional managed services in that once your workloads are on that cloud, it can be very difficult to get them back out again. Sometimes there is a cost to upgrade existing equipment and software to reach a 'bar of entry' into the cloud, which inhibits the ability to move legacy systems into them. There is a lock-in risk in the new cloud world as much as the old outsource world. The true value of cloud should be that it’s just as easy to move workloads out of the cloud as it is to move them in, and it should be easy to move older versions of software into the cloud without a large upgrade tax.
Cost Management - public cloud services are designed to make it very easy to purchase capacity, many only needing a credit card to open an account and start consuming services. Though this makes the cost of entry very low, as adoption increases there is a risk of losing control over who is consuming the cloud and why, leading to spiralling costs. According to industry estimates , there is a crossover point at around three years where a cloud service can become more expensive than using other solutions, and therefore there is a risk that in three to four years’ time, the government may be paying a lot more for its IT services through cloud providers than it is expecting.
The recent announcement of a strategic relationship between VMware and Amazon Web Services is a reflection that hybrid cloud is the reality for most enterprise and public sector customers and such partnerships will accelerate public cloud adoption with enterprise levels of service and control.
Tim Hearn is director, UK Government and Public Services at VMware