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Whitehall IT chiefs open up about challenges of going cloud-first in central government

Whitehall IT chiefs talk about the progress they have made with abiding by the central government cloud-first mandate

Whitehall technology chiefs have opened up about the impact the UK government’s 2013 cloud-first mandate has had on the way they approach IT procurement.

The measure was introduced in May 2013 to accelerate the adoption of cloud technologies in Whitehall, and – in turn – encourage more central government departments to use the G-Cloud framework.

At the time of its introduction, central government had spent a total of £17.7m on procuring cloud services through the framework. As of August 2015, that figure stands at £753m.

During a public sector panel session at the DatacenterDynamics Converged conference in London on 18 November 2015, technology chiefs from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office talked about how the directive has shaped their IT buying habits.

As such, Diptesh Patel, head of technology and architecture at the Home Office, said his department has been making a concerted effort to adopt more commodity, public cloud-based services, but there is only so far it can go.

“We have a number of programmes under way and technologies that will be refreshed in the next few years that will take the approach of cloud-first, but there are some legacy services – such as mainframes - that still exist that will not be easy to virutalise and move to cloud,” said Patel.

At the same time, his organisation is looking to consolidate the number of datacentres it operates, and – in turn – wind down the number of suppliers and contracts it has in place.

As part of this, he said his department will look to make use of the Crown Hosting Service, a joint venture struck up between the Cabinet Office and Ark Datacentres to host non-cloud datacentre workloads.  

For James Barton, head of enterprise technology projects at the DWP, the cloud-first policy presented more of a challenge, as he admits the organisation initially lacked the skills and capabilities to throw its full weight behind it from the get-go.

To address this, his department worked with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to create a series of cloud-focused teams to work on specific projects and drive momentum.

“That’s been building up over the past 18 months. We’ve started to see a step change [in adoption] and we’re looking to increase that activity,” he said.

Similar to Patel, he also said his department is planning to do more with the Crown Hosting Service, as there are certain workloads – for security reasons – it is unable to move to the public cloud.

“One of the aspects we’re driving into Crown Hosting is to have more private cloud ability to deliver those core back-end systems that often have those higher security requirements,” he added.

While the likes of DWP and the Home Office have taken steps to fully embrace the strategy, Cabinet Office chief technology officer James Duncan said some departments are failing to tap into the full benefits of cloud.

“The cloud-first policy is about cultural change – it’s a behavioural change, which means cloud needs to be built into everything they do,” he said.

“As the policy beds in, we will see more adoption of that, but the hard work of that behavioural and cultural change is just beginning and as time goes on, we’ll see that happening.” 

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