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Getting your head round Cloud First and Cloud Native

Written by Bill Mew, Strategist at UKCloud

Government technology in the UK was once blighted by slow, expensive and poor IT systems with 80% of public sector IT spend being allocated to an oligopoly of just 8 multi-national service providers. This led to a lack of competition, choice and indeed to situations of lock-in – which we’re still paying for today.

Austerity, and the 2010 coalition galvanised one of the greatest revolutionary advances in government. Lord Maude of Horsham (Francis Maude) deserves a great deal of credit for using his five years as Minister for the Cabinet Office to drive the creation of the Government Digital Service, launch and champion of G-Cloud, a revolutionary procurement framework, and launch of the single GOV.UK website. Policies like ‘cloud first’ and ‘digital by default’ provided a focus and purpose that enabled the government to ramp up its digital capability and move workloads to the cloud – ultimately leading to the UK being recognised by the United Nations as the most digitally advanced government in the world.

This was a massive achievement by any measure. It has also provided a platform for reinvestment and a further wave of transformation moving to cloud native applications and shared services (like GOV.UK Pay, Notify and Verify). However, when you consider that only about 10% of central government workloads are now in the cloud and  in areas like local government, education and the NHS is as low as 1% or 2%. There is still much to be done, sometimes the real challenge is knowing where to start!

The Journey to Digital

Parts of the public sector are still blighted with inflexible legacy IT systems that create waste, inefficiencies and impede the delivery of services. Part of the vision for the future is to move to become truly digital – to allow citizens to consume services online, at their convenience (like they do with retailers or banks), and improve the systems for staff in the public sector at the same time.

It is not easy to move from areas of “broken IT” and dis-jointed government towards more efficient, agile and dynamic public services. The journey cannot be completed in a single step. We find it useful to track progress with what we call the 4 step digital progression index.

  1. Legacy: Inflexible, out-dated infrastructure restricting digital transformation
  2. Transition: Relocation of existing architectures onto modern, agile and trusted Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  3. Transform: Adoption of cloud native architectures to provide scalable, flexible platforms
  4. Digitise: Optimisation of business processes and transactions to exploit the agility of the cloud

The first step from stage 1 to 2 is all about supporting workloads that were designed and built before cloud become accepted. These workloads typically already run in legacy data centres and so need to be moved into the cloud. This then allows you to stop focusing on running data centres and hardware – and start focusing on higher components of the stack.

The next step from stage 2 to 3 enables you to really benefit from cloud, with workloads that are dynamic and elastic. Applications need to be programmatically driven to scale-out and self-heal. Workloads that have these characteristics are called cloud native. They are built on open-source technologies in which they need a very different type of platform than the Enterprise and pre-cloud workloads.

These different stages require different solutions and tend to require a different mind-set:

  • The Enterprise Mindset: The first step is all about modernising applications that are based on architectures that were developed pre-cloud – using technologies like VMware and Oracle. These systems tend to be business critical and so they’re focused on risk and supportability. Tools like Zerto are relevant for migration and recovery use-cases. All departments come from different starting points, but many have systems that have evolved over years to become a veritable ‘rats nest’ of applications that need to connect to legacy networks or secure communities of users. UKCloud’s unique Elevated domain with proximity to CHDC, as well as connectivity to public sector networks, provides a real advantage here.
  • The Cloud Native Mindset: In contrast, the cloud native approach is more innovative and experimental. It involves building applications that are designed to leverage public cloud platforms such as UKCloud’s OpenStack powered Cloud Native Infrastructure. The aim here is to reengineer applications or develop new ones using platform tools like Docker containers and Terraform. This approach tends to result in better services that enhance the user experience and outcome, as development is focused on the application and its use, rather than the infrastructure.
  • The Best of both worlds: Whereas the global public cloud generalist provides platforms that only really support the second approach, UKCloud has built a public cloud platform that brings together both enterprise and cloud native into a single multi-cloud platform. For the first time, public sector organisations have a single platform that meets the needs of their diverse workloads. They can bring existing Systems of Record into the cloud, using low-risk migration to like-for-like technologies; VMware-to-VMware, Oracle-to-Oracle, etc. At the same time, they can innovate with new technologies, developing new applications for population scale solutions, or to cater for increasingly mobile and diverse users.

There are perceptions however that enterprise or cloud native environments can be costly or difficult to integrate and manage. At UKCloud we provide price competitive, award-winning platforms, with a unique Cross Domain Security Zone.

Not only does this allow you to devise a multi-cloud strategy in which you can optimise your use of different cloud platforms to match the specific requirements of each workload, but you also have the opportunity to optimise the level of assurance you require as well. From its secure UK data centres, UKCloud provides services across two security domains, Assured OFFICIAL (historically PGA IL2) and Elevated OFFICIAL (historically PGA IL3), and four service levels, offering unrivalled levels of sovereignty, assurance and choice.

Obviously, this means that you can enjoy the best of both worlds with industry leading service and security, for a lot less than you’d think. Clearly with security and cost addressed, you are free to choose the platform right for each and every one of your workloads.

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