UKCloud has set its sights on creating a public sector-focused Microsoft Azure Stack region, run out of the same datacentres used by the Cabinet Office’s Crown Hosting Service.
The G-Cloud-listed cloud service provider has teamed up with Microsoft and Cisco to deliver the region, which is designed for public sector users that want to create hybrid and multi-cloud environments, and is expected to enter general availability at the end of February 2018.
Iain Patterson, chief digital officer (CDO) of UKCloud and former director of common technology Services at the Government Digital Service (GDS), said public sector interest in cloud is showing no signs of dropping off, and Microsoft Azure is emerging as the destination of choice for many.
“It is clear that [public sector] people are either going down the Amazon Web Services [AWS] or Azure route, and [typically] have a textured estate made up of multiple products mashed together over a number of years,” he told Computer Weekly.
“We looked at Azure Stack and recognised there was limited functionality compared with pure Azure Cloud, but it is a really safe stepping stone and has all the credentials the public sector needs, so it was a bit of a no-brainer that we could add that into our mix.”
The company supports enterprise and cloud-native applications built on OpenStack, VMware and Oracle stacks, and claims its Microsoft tie-up marks it out as the first UK-based cloud provider to offer a multi-tenant implementation of Azure Stack.
The diversity of cloud technologies offered by UKCloud ensure public sector organisations are covered regardless of whether or not it is cloud-native or legacy applications they are wanting to move to the cloud, said Leighton James, the company’s CTO.
“We’ve got our OpenStack and Azure Stack offerings if you’re going to be build a brand new application. If you’re going to modernise your existing applications, you could take a VMware workload and move that onto our VMware cloud, or take an Oracle cloud and move that onto our Oracle cloud,” he said.
“The secret sauce here is by having these diverse cloud technologies on the same platforms, it enables customers to make that onward journey and transformation,” he added.
On the diversity point, the company has not ruled out introducing support for other cloud platforms in future too, including public cloud giant AWS, said Patterson.
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“We’re not looking to exclude any… and we’re not directly engaged with them [AWS], but we are looking at what products are coming up in future,” he said.
“Nothing is off the table. If our users show there is a demand for doing something, like a private cloud version of AWS, we would look into it, and we are evaluating that technology at the moment.”
UKCloud’s Azure Stack in question is built on Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS), as well as the networking giant’s Nexus 9000 Cloud Scale switching technology.
UKCloud further claims the setup is the only Microsoft Azure Stack built to specifically cater to the needs of the public sector, as it features connections to several core government networks, including RLI, N3/HSCN and PSN Protected.
Launched in September 2017, Microsoft Azure Stack is hybrid cloud-enabling software that is designed to help enterprises run Azure public cloud services from their own datacentres.
According to UKCloud, the setup means public sector organisations can build and deploy applications in either an on- or off-premise Azure environment using the same application programming interfaces (APIs) and developer tools.
While enterprises have the option to procure Azure Stack directly from Microsoft and deploy it themselves, James said the skills and expertise needed to do so successfully are in short supply in the public sector.
“If you want to do it yourself in your own datacentre, you’ve got to make sure you have the expertise inside your own organisation, regardless of whether Microsoft helps you or not. Configuration is not straightforward and is quite complex,” he said.
“The other thing is that not only do you have your capital investment that sits there as well, you have to build and maintain it. They are trying to move away from adding new tin to their datacentres and trying to consolidate.”
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