Forestry and Land Scotland uses Nutanix to gain breathing space in cloud modernisation

With its datacentre contract coming to an end, the Forestry and Land Scotland agency, which has a cloud-first strategy, needed a way to manage cloud migration

Forestry and Land Scotland is among just a handful of organisations that has used Nutanix Cloud Clusters (NC2) on Microsoft Azure, as a stepping stone to cloud-first modernisation of its application estate. With support from Microsoft and Nutanix, the agency went through a thorough due diligence process to understand the implication of the public cloud migration.

Forestry and Land Scotland was formed in 2019 to take on the new responsibilities gained following the full devolution of forestry to Scotland. Nick Mahlitz, senior digital infrastructure manager of Forestry and Land Scotland, says the agency has a cloud-first strategy, but following the transfer of responsibilities from Forestry Commission, the new agency needed to make a copy of the existing application infrastructure and take over responsibility for the data related to Scotland.

“We didn’t really know what infrastructure we needed, to be honest,” Mahlitz says. Forestry and Land Scotland wanted to move over to the cloud straight away, but, he adds: “That was just a step too far and too soon after the split.”

The agency had been operating a 20-year-old datacentre hall, and Mahlitz says no one had embarked on a major migration to the cloud. “It was just that step too far, which is why we decided on the middle ground and used a private datacentre provider for three or four years to help us before we then transitioned over to the cloud.”

Part of Forestry and Land Scotland’s responsibilities is to deliver 300 applications to endpoint devices, which are essentially Scottish government laptops.

“How do you deliver all these applications to devices that you don’t own?” Mahlitz says. “It costs money to validate software on these things so we use Citrix to deliver all our applications.”

To get started, he says the agency selected the Nutanix’s hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) stack, which gave Forestry and Land Scotland the flexibility to procure and grow additional IT infrastructure as needed.

Forestry and Land Scotland selected Pulsant’s colocation facility in Scotland for application hosting, Citrix was deployed for application streamlining infrastructure, Nutanix provided the hyperconverged infrastructure, and Nvidia GPUs were deployed to support 3D rendering applications.

There were also some workloads running on VMware, but when the agency deployed Nutanix, Mahlitz says Forestry and Land Scotland simply migrated them onto Nutanix.

With its datacentre hosting contract coming to end, Forestry and Land Scotland now needed to consider how to move to the next platform on its journey to the cloud. It decided on Nutanix NC2, which enables customers to host their private clouds on a variety of public cloud platforms, including Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure, without the need for any re-coding.

Although NC2 had been on an AWS for quite a while, Mahlitz says it was fairly new on Azure: “Our engineer who helped us deploy Nutanix NC, told us that there’s about four customers on Azure.”

While organisations have used NC to stretch their on-premise datacentre infrastructure into the public cloud or to deploy a development environment, Mahlitz says: “There were absolutely no reference customers, which is why we had to make sure that it was the right solution. The due diligence piece was hugely important.”

Discussing the due diligence and preparation for the migration to the cloud, going native cloud and transforming 20-year-old systems, Mahlitz says: “We spent 18 to 20 months working out the costs and understanding the costs of native Microsoft Azure.”

Forestry and Land Scotland undertook an Azure migration assessment with Microsoft Azure migration and, with help from Microsoft and Nutanix, deployed a proof of concept using NC2 on Azure. Mahlitz says metrics were taken to assess whether NC2 was the right way to go.

“We initially saw NC2 as a kind of stopgap,” explains Mahlitz, “that would allow us to pick up our on-premise Nutanix datacentre and run it on Microsoft Azure while we went about re-engineering applications to run on that platform natively. However, it soon became clear that NC2 could be a lot more than a halfway house. In fact it could deliver many, if not all, of the benefits of public cloud without the time, effort and extra expenditure required for full native migration.”

According to Mahlitz, Nutanix NC2 gives the organisation more time to tackle modernisation of its legacy IT as it builds out cloud-native systems. “We’ve got time on our side as we engage with our business on a rather huge transformation programme and use more software as a service applications.” Rather than wait for every application to be migrated, he says Nutanix NC2 on Azure has provided a way for Forestry and Land Scotland to migrate to a public cloud.

As the organisation moves applications to the public cloud, Mahlitz hopes to be able to offer Forestry and Land Scotland rangers remote access to the software they require. This is likely to be delivered over satellite broadband, given poor mobile coverage in the Highlands.

Mahlitz says Forestry and Land Scotland plans to run a pilot with Starlink to provide connectivity in remote buildings and on vehicles like Range Rovers using small satellite dishes mounted on the car’s roof. This, he says, will provide true mobile internet and good connectivity, adding: “Our workforce can then use their laptops without having to go anywhere near an office.

“If we make connectivity easier and the migration to the public cloud, there will be no need for direct network access. Our endpoint devices go through Citrix Cloud, Zscaler and Octa for identity management.”

He says this offers a zero-trust model, which enables people to connect from wherever they are: “The wonderful thing about migrating to a public cloud is that we’re now relying on other cloud services like Citrix, Octa and Zscaler to deliver the very same – if not enhanced models – of what we originally had, which is really good.”

Mahlitz belongs to a public sector cloud community in Scotland, which meets every quarter. From his discussion with other IT leaders in the public sector, he says many are interested in the due diligence part of Forestry and Land Scotland’s public cloud project with Nutanix and Microsoft.

“There’s no point in spending money if somebody else has already produced reports. If I’m ever challenged from an audit perspective on why we’re investing hundreds of thousands of pounds on this new solution that no one’s done before for a full cloud migration, then I have everything covered,” he adds.

Among the reports Mahlitz has produced are those covering metrics on sustainability, carbon footprint and the total cost of ownership. Mahlitz hopes that sharing such information can help other IT leaders who may be facing a bit of resistance in their cloud migration plans.

Read more about cloud migrations

  • HPE signs memorandum of understanding with UK government’s procurement chiefs to help public sector organisations sustainably move to cloud.
  • With a steady trickle of customer organisations returning on-premise, a need to plan better may not be the whole story.

Read more on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Data Center
Data Management