Windsor and Maidenhead council migrates services to cloud

Windsor and Maidenhead borough council will migrate critical services such as childcare, benefits and transport services to the cloud by 2014

The IT team at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is planning to put all its IT services on to a cloud infrastructure within 12-18 months.

These include business-critical services such as adult and children care services, transport services, council tax, and revenue and benefits.

“There is tremendous pressure on IT budget and organisations have only two options – either outsource or adopt an intelligent way of doing IT which is cloud computing,” Rocco Labellarte, head of technology and change delivery at the borough, told Computer Weekly at the Cloud Expo Europe 2013 event.

Labellarte joined the Windsor and Maidenhead council in 2012 to help it embark on its cloud strategy.

The borough had developed a cloud roadmap in 2010 but it was stalled because it was too ambitious and unachievable, he said. 

“Now, the timing is right and the benefits of adopting cloud computing are proven,” he said. “If the government bodies want to adopt cloud, now is the time.

“There will always be cuts to IT budgets and we have to demonstrate value for money and delivering IT on the cloud will help us drive efficiencies,” he said. 

The Windsor and Maidenhead borough had more than 200 IT staff five years ago. Today, there are 15 technical support staff and 20 applications support staff, Labellarte said.

The borough has already taken the first steps in its journey to the cloud. It has fully virtualised and consolidated its two datacentre sites. It has also implemented a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to support IT consumerisation trends.

“Our VDI environment is on a pilot run and we will roll it out in March this year,” Labellarte said.

As for its cloud strategy, the IT team is open to public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid cloud approach. 

“We are not precious about any type of cloud or any particular supplier. What we want is a technology partnership where the supplier will help us bring IT efficiencies, give us confidence about security and drive efficiencies,” he said.

“We don’t want a supplier to tell us how great unified communications is, but one that will demonstrate how it will make our IT robust.”

Readying internal IT for the cloud

The borough is inviting suppliers to tender including AWS, Microsoft Azure as well as private cloud vendors on March 15, 2013. “On the supplier day, we will articulate what our cloud strategy is and we will tell what aspects we want from different suppliers,” Labellarte said.

The team is already familiar with Microsoft’s platforms as it has gone down the Office 365 route.

“We are also about to take on SharePoint but one problem is that we have only thin clients and Microsoft SharePoint does not work purely on thin clients. But Microsoft claims it has fixed it. We will test it out in a fortnight,” he said.

But the IT team wants a combination of five or six services that will together form its cloud infrastructure. “We want one supplier for networking, one for IaaS, one for PaaS, one for unified communications and one for telephony,” he said.

“The services have to meet our crucial criteria. We are looking for zero upfront investment and an infrastructure that will drive efficiencies,” Labellarte said.

The team is confident about managing the cloud infrastructure on its own. “Our team is strong in managing IT procurement and security and we are confident we will be able to yield results,” he said.

Were there any challenges to moving to the cloud for a public sector organisation? “The IT team wanted a large chunk of our services on the cloud. But as out budgets remained static, we had to show the numbers and show that the business case stacks up. That’s why minimal upfront cost is key,” he said.

Fear among government bodies to adopt cloud

According to Labellarte, there is a “fear factor” among local authorities about using cloud computing services.

“If one organisation does it, others will certainly follow suit and we want to be the first ones to do it,” Labellarte said.

“At the moment it is a three-horse race to cloud among the local authorities. In addition to us, only Surrey County Council and Edinburgh Council are advanced to adopt cloud truly.”

Migrating just one application, such as an email client or HR application, will not help users yield its benefits, warns Labellarte. That would mean having to spend on cloud as well as to managing in-house IT.

True benefits will come when cloud is adopted fully for a major chunk of services and currently, just three UK local authorities are closer to achieving that, he said.


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