Peter Ford, public sector industry principal, Pegasystems discusses why he believes hybrid cloud technology is a champion for citizens and government after the original cloud-first plan received backlash
In 2013, as part of the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) Technology Code of Practice, a series of guidelines were drawn up which stated that all central government departments must take a public cloud-first stance on all new technologies purchased.
However, earlier in May 2019 it was announced that the government’s public cloud-first policy is under review. So, why has there been this backlash to the original cloud-First Plan?
The benefits of cloud hosting are clear – the speed and scalability it offers applications is unparalleled. By contrast, an entirely on-prem solution often results in the provisioning of on-site hardware delaying the implementation of solutions in the public sector. This delay can add a considerable amount of time onto the entire length of a project, causing significant monetary loss. With cloud solutions it is possible to create and implement the systems required at a far more rapid pace.
So why is the government appearing to turn away from public cloud? The reasons for this change in attitude to cloud are mainly down to the fact that government departments perceive security to be compromised anywhere other than on-premise. The UK Government National Cyber Security Centre advocates adherence to fourteen principles to understand and implement appropriate measures to protect systems. With the threat of GDPR hanging round everyone’s necks, government departments motivations are obvious.
Also, the short two-year contract period with G-Cloud, albeit with the ability to extend by 1 + 1 years, is really putting suppliers off from committing. Many enterprise solutions support organisational transformations which need certainty of backing for the long-term rather than short-term. If a major software solution takes up to a year to implement it is important not to let that investment be jeopardised or put at risk by a short-term contract. From a supplier perspective a longer contract is favoured as it also gives a higher level of certainty.
Therefore, the solution is to balance the speed and scalability elements with security, and this can be achieved by utilising hybrid-cloud solutions. Highly sensitive data can be stored on premise with everything else on cloud. There is also the option to start a project on-cloud to get the work ramped up really quickly at the outset and then to gradually migrate back over to on-premise storage for ongoing operation. Going forward, on-premise is going to be the exception rather than the rule due to its lack of scalability and the inability for organisations to buy storage and compute incrementally.
Having a flexible cloud approach means that the government can deliver existing and new online services better and faster. It also means that people can interact completely with the government online, which is particularly good for the Gen Z demographic who expect to conduct a majority of their lives using the internet.
Furthermore, as the country’s population grows, predominantly cloud hosted solutions will be able to meet the increasing needs of more people by scaling to meet the demand. They will also be able to get better performance from that solution in the long run. Where government regulations stipulate that highly sensitive data should be held locally then the emergence of suppliers whose solutions can accommodate on-premise, on-cloud or a hybrid model should be considered. Where citizen information is highly sensitive, cloud together with on-premise, hybrid, solutions can be utilised.
The government will continue to benefit from this model in terms of cost saving because it is purely consumption based. They will not be wasting money on paying for a set amount of on-prem storage that might not necessarily be used.
It is promising to see that the Government Digital Service and Crown Commercial Service has taken concerns on board and recognised that there are occasions when pure cloud hosting is not the preferred option. The official line, at the moment, is that Government Departments need to seek authorisation to adopt a non-cloud hosting approach but it’s likely that the volume of exceptions has caused them to think again. As the G-cloud 11 procurement framework applications have drawn to a close there are already some leading vendors who have developed propositions that allow mix and match to happen, so we are well on our way to realising a flexible cloud mindset for our public sector departments.