Cloud computing, with its scalability and virtualised resources provided as a service over the Internet, has become an increasingly intriguing option for technology business leaders, especially within public sector services. IDC expects spending on IT cloud services to grow almost threefold during the next five years, reaching $42 billion (£25 billion) by 2012. More importantly, spending on cloud computing will accelerate throughout the forecast period, capturing 25% ofexpects spending on IT spending growth in 2012. Knowing this, challenging questions include how to get public sector services to embrace this seemingly inevitablemigration to the cloud and what is the best way to maximise the benefits cloud computing can offer?
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Why consider cloud computing in public sector services?
Public sector services operate in a heavily scrutinised environment, and reliability and value for the money are only two of many key drivers to improve return on investment for IT assets. As the growing impact of the slowing economy is felt, like most industries, public sector organisations are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and streamline operations.
Adding to the pressure are the new environmental obligations of the Greening Government ICT action plan, which outlines steps for central government departments to reduce their carbon footprint. Since the report, some local authorities have committed to reducing carbon emissions in excess of mandatory requirements.
However, more is needed if the majority of public sector services are going to succeed and add value to their IT investments.
Understanding the cost of IT services
A good way for public sector services to get started is to understand the costs of delivering IT services. This was highlighted recently by Thomas Bittman, vice president and analyst with Gartner Inc. He reported that IT departments should start by understanding the services that they need to provide.
"Together with the SLAs [service-level agreements] and costs for each of these public sector services, organisations should build strategic plans around each of these services, and finally determine which ones might go to the cloud in the future based on the ROI," he said.
Specifically, public sector services can benefit fromcentralised virtualised servers, applications, desktops and storage hosted by scalable data centres. Other benefits of the cloud include greater flexibility and mobility, as services are provisioned as needed. High levels of automation also reduce the time required for managing, testing and implementing applications and storage resources.
Public sector services operate in a heavily scrutinised environment, and reliability and value for the money are only two of many key drivers to improve return on investment for IT assets.
Gary Collins, Chief Information Officer, Intercept,
Their processes also often require availability, reliability and sustainability, as authorities look to implement environmental savings in line with civil service and European regulations. Requirements for regular, easy and effective testing are also needed. Many organisations are now considering a flexible working approach to enable staff to work remotely so that essential services can be met when staff cannot physically access the office.
IT savings with the right planning
A recent example of the effective planning for a transition to cloud computing is the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire. It has a workforce of 5,000 and an annual budget of £250 million, and it completed an extensive overhaul of its IT infrastructure.
With the help of our IT consultants, the organisation virtualised its back-end server estate, brought itsdisaster recovery (DR) service in-house and implemented remote working technologies to improve services while reducing provisional costs. The changes have enabled a drop in the organisation's data centre energy use, whereascentralising storage and bringing DR in-house has reduced risk and saved £100,000 per year.
"Early last year we decided it was time to consider virtualisation to help achieve our objectives," said Keith Clark, Head of ICT at the Royal Borough. "So far, we have reduced our energy consumption by 44%, with total project savings of around £1.2 million expected during a five-year period."
Bracknell Forest Council has also reported a saving of more than £30,000 a year on its electricity bill through virtualisation. Basildon District Council recently led a panel discussion on how it created its own personalised flexible-working strategy using the technologies and services that were appropriate for its size and budget.
Combine virtualised IT infrastructure with cloud-based services
The latest virtualisation and cloud-enabling strategies, such as server consolidation, energy-efficient technologies, workstations andthin client devices, can be implemented to form the basis of aprivate cloud. This can then be combined, where appropriate, with trusted partners that offerhosted applications that take the burden of operational management away from the client.
Some public sector services are well established in the cloud. For example, many organisations no longer see the need to manage theirMicrosoft Exchange email infrastructure in-house, so they outsource this in aSoftware as a Service model. Similarly, collaboration and Web tools are often outsourced rather than having the operational burden of managing these internally.
Other councils face a need to consolidate IT estates that have grown too large or that are too costly to maintain for their current use. Alternatively, local authorities mindful of their need to set an example are looking to reduce electricity use and heating, ventilation, andcooling costs as well as overallcarbon footprints.
This means that organisations will be able to move their focus from IT operations to IT enablement, facilitating creativity and the planning of new business services.
As Richard Dawson, IT Services Manager for Bracknell Forest Council, said: "Councils no longer want to spend time cobbling together inadequate in-house software programs to cope with an irregular server set up."
Gary Collins, is the Chief Information Officer at virtualisation consultancy Intercept and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk