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Why the public cloud will revolutionise government IT

The UK is ahead of the curve in public cloud adoption, and the upcoming creation of an AWS UK region will push public services further online

In June, a team of international judges recognised Peterborough council’s cloud strategy and its use of Amazon’s AWS platform to host its services.

The council won the AWS Global Public Sector Smart City Award and $25,000 worth of credits on the public cloud service.

When Computer Weekly visited Peterborough last year, Richard Godfrey, assistant director for digital at the council, explained that the council had moved its IT infrastructure to the AWS cloud as part of a long-term vision to make greater use of sofware as a service (SaaS).

“We will move all our applications onto the Force.com platform,” Godfrey said.

A number of local authorities are modernising their IT around off-the-shelf cloud applications modified to support council services more efficiently and at lower cost.

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In the Shifting sands: New structures and delivery models report from Socitm Insight published in January, Stuart Mitchenall, head of business services at Tanbridge council, discussed how the council was using Salesforce as its case management system.

The development environment within Salesforce – Force.com – supports agile development using sprints and storyboards, for a per user per month cost with no long-term commitment. Mitchenall explained that third parties such as Arcus and Methods, which provide consulting services to Tandridge, can offer applications within this environment. These applications can subsequently be linked together to provide common functions.

More government services are set to migrate to the public cloud as large providers go live with UK datacentres.

AWS UK region

The AWS UK region is set to go live within six months. During a presentation at the AWS summit in London in July, Liam Maxwell, the UK government’s national technology adviser, discussed the importance of the AWS cloud in the UK.

“Amazon in 20 years has grown massively. One of those core components of any digital country is to have an Amazon region. AWS is a central feature of UK industry and the Amazon marketplace is growing very fast.”

Maxwell said the UK region will be significant for government. “The Amazon region in the UK at the end of this year is going to bring a massive change to government technology. For so long people haven’t been using on-demand public cloud services because they feel they want to have data resident in the UK.”

Maxwell estimated that using a UK public cloud could save the goverment in the order of £100m over five years.

Migrating public services to the cloud

Max Peterson, head of public sector EMEA, said that moving IT infrastructure into the public cloud is the start of a journey. “Local and regional governments want capability; they don’t want to build and run complicated infrastructure. They see cloud as more cost-effective and more agile,” he said.

According to Peterson, tens of thousands of software companies are building applications on top of AWS.

He said: “You can spin up a complete computing environment with a new database service managed by us, so your people don’t have to manage the new system.” Instead, staff can focus on the application migration aspect of the project.

Replicating existing application in the public cloud is one of the first steps that public sector organisations can take to become more cloud-savvy. “A lot of customers will also take the opportunity to improve functionality,” Peterson added.

But some users, like Peterborough, will want to take this further, by running off-the-shelf SaaS applications, rather than migrating bespoke systems into the cloud.

Infrastructure issues

Peterson said that in the public sector many IT departments spend 70-80% of their time worrying about the current infrastructure, which means they spend only a quarter of their time thinking about how to get out of this situation. According to Peterson, this is a perfect opportunity to start looking at the cloud.

Recently, Salesforce announced it was moving more of its software onto the AWS platform to focus on SaaS. Given that councils such as Peterborough and Tanbridge, among others, are looking for SaaS rather than just infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Peterson believes more software companies will develop SaaS apps for the public sector built on top of AWS.

He said: “We believe there is a lot more power in having a complete ecosystem.” 

Public sector IT chiefs will buy capabilities rather than just cloud infrastructure. As an example, Peterson said scientific researchers can now go onto the AWS marketplace, search for a product that matches their high-performance computing requirements and launch it in a matter of minutes.

The big benefits

He added that people often start with trying to lower costs by using the cloud to replace physical server and storage infrastructure in their own datacentres, running IaaS. But the real benefit of the cloud is that it gives organisations speed and agility, he said.

Among the benefits of the cloud in the public sector is the ability to share data.

The authors of the Socitm Insight Shifting Sands report suggest that by relaxing working practices which restrict access to working data and information, and making it machine-readable, accessible and reusable by third parties, local and central government have the opportunity to enable the data they hold to be reused in ways that were not originally considered. This could lead them to redesign public services.

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Remember that Cloud means your organisation stops dead when its internet connection dies. The may be left often than most mainframe computers "die" but happened twice to significant numbers of UK users in the past week. I find it interesting that as hardware becomes more reliable we configure and overlay it with software in ways that are so complex as to be inherently unreliable.
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