Louise Fellows, Director, Public Sector UK&I at VMware
When the Government Digital Service (GDS) first introduced its Cloud First policy in 2013, the concept of true hybrid cloud was in its infancy. The term might have been around for some time, but the ability to actually implement it was very much at its earliest stages. Looking back, it’s entirely understandable that GDS went with such an approach – cloud offered flexibility, agility and scalability, along with low capital expenditure at a time when austerity was biting, and legacy infrastructure was creaking.
Things change. Enterprise organisations in all sectors, including those in public service, are realising that simply lifting and shifting everything to public cloud doesn’t work. According to one study, 74% of companies move apps onto the cloud and then moved them back on-premise. Even businesses offering cloud services are rethinking how they themselves use different environments – according to its financial reports, Dropbox saved more than $70 million in operational expenditure, primarily because it moved most of its data away from the cloud.
How does that work when we’ve previously talked about low capital expenditure? Because while using cloud services cuts down on the upfront investment traditional on-premises solutions require, it does require ongoing spending. If you’ve shifted absolutely everything to the cloud, it’s likely that your OPEX is going to be pretty high. Indeed, new guidance from GDS begins with a warning that while “In most circumstances the public cloud provides better value for money than on-premise technology…the way you’re charged is different. Your bills will change according to your usage and though long-term costs are often lower, monthly costs could increase or decrease significantly as your demand fluctuates. This means you need to be flexible in how you budget for cloud services, put in place systems and processes to monitor your spending, and design your applications to take advantage of the cloud cost model.”
From a public sector perspective, this can make it difficult for government departments to marry the promise of cost effectiveness that cloud has sold with the growing technical debt the reality could potentially create.
Then there’s the issue that not everything can, or should, be migrated. Some mission critical applications, run on legacy systems, can not be transformed or refactored for cloud environments. The reaction in many cases has been to try and replace them outright with native apps, but a shortage of the right skills to build and run those services makes this a drawn out and expensive process.
Unable to meet wider operational requirements, different departments start to circumvent IT and buy public cloud resource direct from providers. While this means that, in the short term, they can access the environments they require to meet their objectives, they do not consider the consequences: exponential costs and no direct accountability for this proliferation of cloud environments. And that’s before we even talk about the security implications.
So, where does hybrid cloud fit in? In theory, it should be an attractive solution in the right situation – making it as easy to move workloads between and around clouds and on-premise as it is in a data centre, while creating a consistent way to manage different environments.
Many reading this will think ‘great, we’ve already got hybrid cloud’. The problem is, they don’t. What many people think of as hybrid cloud is actually just a mix of environments that, more often than not, have grown organically with little thought to how it all fits together.
When this happens, what organisations actually get is the digital-era version of the traditional IT silo – where proprietary software struggled to integrate with other systems, needed its own teams with training that could only be acquired from different vendors, and had to be updated in line with its own schedules, irrespective of budget cycles or other considerations.
This was challenging enough when it was on-premise. Move it to the cloud, and, as with anything that is digitised, everything moves faster. Including problems, such as silos.
What true hybrid cloud offers is that ability to work across all environments, whether private, public or on-premise, and in a manner that does not require separate teams for each platform, thanks to delivering consistency in managing both the underlying infrastructure and operations. It is a digital foundation that can act as a spring board for innovative applications and services that meet the needs of citizens and without users, without compromising on cost efficiency or security.
By using hybrid cloud, public sector organisations can manage that balance between needing the right environments to transform, without the challenges of migrating everything to the cloud right away.
In the rush to go Cloud First, many departments are disregarding the point that it should not be a case of either cloud or on-premise; but the use of cloud in the right circumstances, for the right business cases. That’s why hybrid cloud can be such a significant benefit – it allows government units to augment their on-premise environments with the right cloud platforms.
It’s exactly what the likes of Network Rail and other government departments are doing – using a mix of environments, in a coordinated, strategic and consistent manner, as a digital foundation to deliver new services to users, whether employees or citizens. For the former, it has deployed a variety of private and public clouds to help transform its complicated legacy IT estate into a more agile platform on which to balance the needs of legacy systems with the demands of developing and deploying new services. Another department, which sees a major spike in users at certain points of the year, put the front end in the public cloud, with data that application gathered store in a separate secure environment.
As the world becomes ever more digital, cloud is going to continue to be the foundation from which the quality experiences all users expect can be delivered. However, a pure cloud play is never going to work for any enterprise which has both significant legacy infrastructure and has to handle large amounts of data – in other words, almost all government departments. True hybrid cloud offers those organisations a significant opportunity to both develop and deliver the sorts of digital services they need to, in a manner that isn’t crippling expensive or discards mission critical legacy applications.