Has the definition of ‘cloud’ added to the challenges?

Over the past 12 months, we’ve been exploring cloud transformation in the public sector. We traveled to the UK interviewing technologists driving change to understand the feasibility of the ‘cloud first’ policy and its subsequent challenges, writes Russell Macdonald, HPE CTO of public sector and hybrid cloud

One topic that came up several times was the disparity and confusion in the definition of the cloud and the policy perspective. When interviewing for our documentary series, Consciously Hybrid, the cloud was used interchangeably by many technologists and organizations. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines “cloud computing” as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (eg networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be quickly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or interaction with the service provider”.

NIST defines ‘public cloud’ as one of four deployment models along with community cloud, hybrid cloud, private cloud. While NIST is a US Government definition it was referenced by the UK Government in its first cloud policy. However, it does not set standards for the UK. Despite the widely adopted definition that includes many options for cloud computing, the UK Government specifically defines the cloud primarily as a public cloud which further contributes to the confusion of the term itself.

The difference between public cloud, hyperscale cloud, hybrid cloud, private cloud, in some cases, has led organizations to find themselves caught between strategies, platforms, models of operating funding channels.

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The first cloud policy can be said, changing the definition of the cloud from a technology choice for individual departments to a matter of government policy. The cloud should be considered an experience, or a way of using technology. So a technology strategy should still be based on the principles of putting the right workloads, in the right place, for the right reason. This can be on-premise, private cloud, edge, multi-cloud and/or public cloud.

Cloud Computing is an evolution of IT as a whole. It is therefore necessary to shift the focus to ‘how’ the workloads are modernized in terms of cloud native design, as opposed to only considering ‘where’ the workloads are moved. In the last decade, the answer to ‘where’ has been public cloud. This change in mindset is essential to deliver the digital government agenda moving forward.

With this in mind, we spoke to Paul Neville during his time as director of digital and ICT at the London Borough of Waltham Forest, to understand his view of the ‘cloud’ and the resulting approach to change.

Paul’s definition is in line with the cloud first policy, which sees the public cloud as an answer to changing challenges. With limited digital expertise and budget, the borough is forced to make short-term value decisions rather than long-term impact, or evolution of the borough and its digital strategy. Couple this with the rise in digital expectations of citizens, the borough has reached a critical moment where it needs to change to serve their needs and prepare for the future.

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Take a conscious hybrid approach

The borough recognizes the public cloud as a key enabler to modernize legacy technology by first lifting and migrating its aging workloads and applications. To reduce risk and maintain cost efficiency, the borough has spent a lot of time learning to better understand cloud technologies and the value they can provide. Taking the time to understand what the cloud means to them enables them to develop in-house the same way with a unified cloud definition.

Paul explained: “To scale, we knew we needed to explore and invest in cloud technology. However, we knew not all of our data and workloads were suitable for migration.

“Our on-premises data center allows us to store some information where it works best and provides a replica data center for disaster recovery. We are taking a hybrid approach in our journey to the cloud so we can implement and leverage the benefits of the cloud, while ensuring little or no disruption to the citizen experience.”

Technologists often consider cloud adoption as a predetermined, yes or no choice – either full public cloud adoption or no. This is followed by the cloud first policy, especially the use of the public cloud. Despite paving the way to the public cloud, the policy offers little guidance on how to get there, how to deal with legacy workloads, content cases and sensitive data. Everything our research suggests is not, and may never be, suitable for public cloud environments.

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A strong narrative of the public cloud reinforces prejudices that the public cloud is ‘good’, leading people to believe that everything is ‘bad’ or the ‘old way of doing things’ of things’.

The lack of a ubiquitous definition of the cloud contributes to this. The public cloud is only an instantiation of modern cloud native technology and other options exist. A thoughtful hybrid approach recognizes the value each of the options brings in a pragmatic and strategic way.

We believe it’s time to consider a more thoughtful path to cloud innovation – open to the opportunities and options offered by the cloud and hybrid approach.

We continue to explore the transformation of the cloud and share the different strategies and methods used by technologists in the public sector. If you want to get involved or share your views, get in touch or join the conversation at #ConsciouslyHybrid.

Hear more from Paul Neville

Read the Cloud Strategy Report

Watch the full documentary


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