At Shaping Cloud we work with local and regional government (‘LRG’) customers to appraise, analyse and recommend initiatives that enable them to exploit public cloud. The sector is now openly adopting public cloud technologies for a number of reasons, the most common of which in our experience are:
- Decreased risk to service whilst avoiding large cost
- Lower cost of IT services overall through use of commodity IT services
- Enhanced operational effectiveness whilst retaining / maintaining control
- Enabling enhanced and more self-service to LRG consumers
But how are these actually achieved? Specifically, what are we helping our customers implement to realise these benefits? Technology is changing constantly but right now the top 5 public cloud technologies that LRG customers are investigating or adopting are:
1. Disaster Recovery (DR) as a Service
There is a consistent ‘fine line’ that LRG IT Directors must consider when providing DR for their LRG organisations; which is balancing the availability needs of their IT infrastructure against budgets provided.
This typically means customers having either secondary data centres or a 3rd party service that facilitates DR with stop gap hardware.
Both methods require a lot of up front capital investment with ongoing costs and the uncertainty that it may not work when needed (mainly because this approach can be difficult to test without affecting live service). With public cloud and hybrid DR technologies this trend is changing. Using the likes of Azure Site Recovery (ASR), data protection tools, commodity storage and orchestrated recovery it is now easier than ever to protect services in a way that allows customers to:
- Quickly test full or partial recovery of services in a way that doesn’t affect live service
- Reduce overall DR service cost by taking advantage of very low cloud storage costs and paying only for services used
- Reclaim property assets for business use, rather than IT equipment
- Decrease failover times by failing into cloud through pre prepared orchestration to always on cloud services
- Flex the amount of services they put into DR as they migrate services away from on-premise
This brings an immediate tactical benefit in terms of protecting services, but also plays a part strategically, as one of the key advantages of the likes of ASR is the ability to switchover servers into Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and leave them there; effectively migrating them to the cloud.
2. Hybrid Storage and Backup
Data storage teams in LRG IT departments face a constant challenge of providing just the right amount of storage to deal with an ever-increasing amount of structured and unstructured data that is often seen as an unlimited repository by the business. The traditional approach is customers investing in storage arrays every 5 or so years, creating a surplus of storage and then having to tactically add more when that runs out; adding risk if not properly capacity-managed as well as cost every time a new solution is put in place and handcuffing the council to making a return on the large investment they’ve made. Customers are turning to commodity storage presented from public cloud vendors to stop this cycle of investment and decrease the risk of storage not being there when needed. With the likes of hybrid cloud connected storage arrays and technologies such as StorSimple it is now possible to exploit cloud to take pressure off current storage and backup services with less disruption than completely migrating to a new storage array. As well as providing the capability to extend storage provision to cloud this approach also enables two other benefits for LRG clients:
- Easy and quick failover onto cloud in the event that on premise storage services fail
- Auto-archiving of unstructured data that hasn’t been accessed in a set period of time
This is a quick to implement, low cost option for customers who need to do something quickly with their storage environment.
3. IaaS Hosting and PaaS Services
Whilst every effort is generally made to use Software as a Service (SaaS) LRG organisations still have a large proportion of their estate residing on their own infrastructure.
This is not always easy to manage and requires solid teams of support staff to keep the lights on, manage capacity and change in the environment, and management to deliver a sound investment strategy that enables the long term plans of the business (as on premise environments are inherently limited in capacity and cost challenges prohibit over-provision). Where our customers are seeing most value from alternative public cloud hosting services are twofold:
- Customers with a compelling event that wish to remove the cyclic investment in technology are looking at Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This is often the case for customers who have infrastructure approaching end of life or need to exit a data centre. IaaS is also good for supporting services that can’t be hosted in an alternative way but is a dependency for that service to run. Typically, IaaS does provide savings over on-premise virtual, self-managed environments, but more significantly it reduces risk, enables much greater scalability and of course you can pay as you use, enabling far greater savings when managing development and test environments
- Customers who are looking to take a more application-centric approach are tending to look at migrating to Platform as a Service (PaaS). Here we are seeing customers gaining up to 55% cost savings. Ideal candidates for PaaS include .Net Web and SQL applications. LRG customers tend to have a large number of Access Databases and other small database reliant applications, written to support tactical requirements a business may have. PaaS is a great option in these instances and offers a cost-efficient approach, reclaiming SQL servers, licenses and storage.
IaaS and PaaS provide hosting options that can be connected to in a hybrid cloud environment, removing pressure from on-premise teams in the day to day management of infrastructure and empowering IT teams to grow the IT capabilities of the organisation.
4. Productivity Toolsets
One of the most popular suites of productivity applications in LRG is Microsoft’s Office 365.
When performing a simple comparison between the cost to provide email on-premise versus Office 365’s Exchange online we are seeing LRG customers gaining roughly a 33% saving over on-premise solutions.
This is without the ongoing efficiency savings of having to perform manage upgrades on a regular basis. All clients we’ve spoken with prefer to have an integrated solution that combines multiple services into one packaged solution – providing a central point of management for support teams, an integrated authentication approach and ease of use for end users that matches their current working styles. In addition to this Office 365 has two additional features that are particularly useful for LRG customers in controlling email and data:
- Information Rights Management – providing the ability to control the copying, printing and forwarding of content based on user roles and responsibilities, ensuring greater control of information sharing both internally and with external parties. This is particularly useful for protectively marked emails that might otherwise be shared.
- Legal Hold – providing the ability to ensure data that must be kept is not deleted. This might apply to non-sensitive financial data held that may need to be kept for a long period of time for regulatory purposes.
Recently, Microsoft announced a new E5 license for 365 which amongst other things, enables Skype for Business to become a fully-fledged public cloud PBX. This means that it is now possible to have an infrastructure-less telephony system. We expect this to make a big impact on LRG organisations over the next 6-12 months as wider adoption of this technology takes place.
5. Workflow Consolidation & Integration
Workflow and case record management is vital to LRG business and is regarded as a core application, however these applications are often run within individual service lines. With the continuing budget cuts in the public sector we are seeing LRG organisations seeking to rationalise business processes and considering consolidation of workflow and case management applications. There are a number of SaaS-based case management solutions that include workflow such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
The fact these applications are hosted in the cloud enables a flexible ‘pay as you go’ licensing model that supports the flexibility and change that local and regional government are seeing on weekly, monthly and yearly basis. In addition, SaaS-based services typically operate under a higher SLA than when hosted on-premise, which is especially useful when this technology is core to your business.
Here at Shaping Cloud we are Microsoft Gold partners and experts in Microsoft Azure cloud and hybrid cloud technologies, specialising in the local and regional government sector. We employ structured consultancy, architecture and implementation services to transform LRG customers into modern, flexible and efficient technology consumers whilst ensuring they gain value for money from technology suppliers.
If you’d like to understand more about our experience within local and regional government and the technology solutions we are helping customers implement please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.