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Council IT chiefs outline plans to create London-wide supercloud for local authorities

Plans are afoot to build a regional cloud that London councils can use to access common apps and services

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A capital-wide hybrid cloud, underpinned by the London Public Services Network (PSN), is in the works that could eventually provide local councils with off-premise access to commonly used applications and services.

The initiative, dubbed London Supercloud, is being jointly spearheaded by Newham and Havering ICT director Geoff Connell and Camden Council CIO John Jackson. Its aim is to provide all 33 London boroughs with lower-cost, cloud-based access to commonly used services and applications.

“If you go back a few years, the councils all bought or developed systems and put them in our own datacentres, and what we’re recognising now is – as we increasingly shift things to the cloud or use shared services – is that we need to plumb things in differently so we can all exploit cloud jointly,” Connell told Computer Weekly.

To this end, the project will see councils across the capital enabled to pool their existing datacentre resources to deliver applications to each other using the LondonPSN, while drawing on the capacity of public cloud service and infrastructure providers as and when needed.

Furthermore, LondonPSN could also be used to host data and applications that might benefit from aggregation, shared hosting and management arrangements, Connell added.

“In the past, the cloud developments of local councils in London have been very organic and fragmented, because we are 33 independent and separate organisations,” he continued.

“What we have here is the opportunity to design and develop a hybrid cloud of the future by working together and deciding what that architecture should look like so it embraces the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others.”

This is a view shared by Camden Council CIO Jackson, who talked up the IT management benefits and consolidation benefits of Supercloud.

“The advantage of this approach is that we, as councils, could start multi-tenanting and consolidating our applications in the cloud,” he said.

“Also, by doing all of this in one cloud, it makes things easier in terms of how you control it. Otherwise, the alternative is lots of different clouds in different places, which is costly, fragmented and difficult to manage.”

Shared services push

The project is a logical follow-on to the shared services agenda many of the capital’s local authorities are working towards, which has already seen Newham pool datacentre resources with the London Borough of Havering.

Similarly, Camden Council outlined its plans to embark on a shared IT services arrangement with Islington Council by 1 April 2016 earlier this year for cost-cutting purposes.

They types of arrangements are what the LondonPSN was introduced to support, and – seeing as though it’s already in place – it makes sense to do more with it, said Jackson.

This attitude has given rise to conversations with the emergency services and NHS organisations about how they can make use of the network, but scope exists within PSN for councils outside of the capital to make use of its services too.

Read more about public sector cloud

This could potentially pave the way for London Supercloud services to be made accessible to councils beyond the confines of the M25, but that’s not a pressing concern, said Connell.

“We know from previous projects that surrounding counties will come to us and say they’d like to participate in this, and that would make sense for them to do, but you can’t boil the ocean and try and do everything at once,” he said.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, TechMarketView principal analyst Michael Larner said the project is likely to stand a better chance of getting off the ground if they keep things simple and London-focused for now.

“When you start expanding these things and opening it up to more and more people, that tends to be where the shared services model starts to fall apart. And then the politics kick-in and ambitions have to start being recalibrated,” he said.

“The mantra should always be with these things, start simple and – in this case – it would be best to focus on the 33 boroughs, and see how much of a coherent group you can make out of those for the first few years.”

Building out Supercloud services 

In the meantime, Jackson said building out a portfolio of “exemplar services” delivered using Supercloud is a more immediate priority, so other councils can start to see exactly what this model of IT delivery can achieve.

As an example, he cites the use of secure email services, of which there are various different tools and technologies used across the public sector that all largely achieve the same thing.

Instead of using numerous and different systems, organisations could make use of a single tool that is hosted in the Supercloud and delivered securely and at scale to other councils.

“You could put that in the middle of a secure, regional Supercloud so authorities could consume it on demand, via the LondonPSN, at low cost. This model opens up a wholly different way of working,” Jackson added.

The Supercloud concept is still in the planning stage at the moment, and the pair fully anticipate it will take some councils longer than others to get involved.

“The right time to do things will depend on when their current datacentre or hardware investment reaches end of life,” said Connell.

“There is also the issue of outsourcing, as that will create a challenge for authorities that want to share and join in too.”

Either way, TechMarketView’s Larner said the project has a lot of potential and could provide the blueprint for the creation of an offering similar to government-as-a-platform (GaaP) at local council level in the capital.

“There is mileage in this, and what we’re seeing here could end up being the seeds of a London government as a platform equivalent,” he said.

“When you start talking about email and other tools you could envisage being in a public cloud for all the London boroughs, it’s almost testing the water for such a notion.”

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

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