Andrew Gough, Client Services Development Director at Agilisys, argues that the benefits of platform services can outweigh the risks of lock-in for public sector organisations migrating to the cloud.
Every public sector organisation heading to the cloud should ask itself a simple question: do you want to save money on technology, or use technology to save money?
Those looking to save money on technology often advocate a multi-cloud approach. The idea is to freely move applications and services between different cloud platforms to take advantage of the cheapest rates at any given time. All this sounds great in theory, but the reality is that most organisations can’t make their applications and services portable.
Multi-cloud may be a cool topic amongst technologists at present, but don’t be dazzled by the marketing spin. True portability demands applications and services that are ideally built using infrastructure-as-code, allowing them to be deployed into AWS, Azure or any other cloud platform. This in turn requires considerable upfront investment, scarce IT expertise and long development times—demands that many public sector organisations find challenging to meet.
Perhaps even more importantly, a multi-cloud approach requires organisations to use only the lowest common denominator cloud building blocks of compute, storage and networking. This misses the whole point of being in the cloud: organisations should be able to use high-value creating services which have the greatest front-line impact and enable a future-ready stance on innovation.
To illustrate this point, most local authorities use Microsoft SQL databases to power some of their critical services. To create truly portable apps, there will have to be re-engineering to, ideally, use My SQL. As an alternative, it might be better to get out of DBA (Database Administrator) operational work entirely and migrate to Azure SQL – a PaaS service that takes away the time consuming and ultimately costly admin. Ditching this significant overhead frees investment and time into much activities that deliver greater value.
With a PaaS service, you also benefit from a platform that’s managed by the same people that built it—that means it’s evergreen (as the marketeers like to call it) and will always be up-to-date, fully patched and high-performing. It’s also quite probably cheaper as a total cost of ownership. In an open source approach, you may not be paying for licensing, but you are paying for business skills. Where vendor services offer peace-of-mind, an open source approach can become unstuck if just one person with vital skills leaves.
My take on multi-cloud is rather different. Instead of aiming for vendor independence and application portability, I believe organisations should make informed choices about which platforms are most suited to hosting different loads, then optimise their performance on an on-going basis. After all, IT teams have always chosen different hardware in their data centres to drive different outcomes.
Accepting that premise, a crucial part of optimising cloud operations over time is to work out which elements of your application infrastructure, such as databases, middleware and service buses, can be handed-off into Platform Services.
By accepting some degree of platform lock-in, organisations can remove a considerable administrative burden, while also gaining access to new capabilities at a lower cost. While it’s true cloud providers can increase their fees, a highly competitive, commodity market makes this unlikely.
For most cloud vendors, Platform Services are the future. From big data analytics and business intelligence, to the Internet of Things or AI, a host of technology innovations are now available that many organisations simply don’t have the capacity to build or run internally. By embracing Platform Services, you will be ready to exploit the power of these new capabilities in a robust cloud environment that’s designed and built for easy integration between platforms and services.
Ultimately, Platform Services enable the public sector to do far more than just cut costs; they enable citizen services that are more agile, efficient and data-driven. What better way to use technology?
This piece was orignially posted on the Agiliys blog here.