Why hybrid cloud will be the future of UK public sector infrastructure

Tim Skinner, public sector director at NetApp, outlines the benefits of cloud adoption in a post-Covid environment
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By NetApp

20 Sep 2021

It’s no secret that cloud is the future. But as we emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, the question on everyone’s mind is just how much has the pandemic disrupted businesses’ plans?

The answer? Not as much as you would think – especially in the public sector.

With the UK Government’s National Data Strategy highlighting the need to transform the way data is collected, managed, used and shared, alongside the rapidly evolving cloud market, our recent research showed that over half (53%) of public sector services are currently using hybrid infrastructure.

This is great news – and shows the public sector is making great strides toward cloud adoption. And while there’s still plenty of work to do, it’s clear that the appetite to put digital plans into motion is there.

Diving deeper

The good news does however come with one or two caveats.

Firstly, the majority of public service infrastructure remains on-premise, with more than two-thirds of services currently less than 50% cloud based. In effect, while many have dipped their toes into cloud, it’s just a toe. Full immersion is still not a reality.

Secondly, only 16% of public sector organisations aim to be fully cloud based in less than three years.  Many petabytes (1PB = one million gigabytes) of data are currently held on legacy systems – meaning that, for the foreseeable future, hybrid will be the norm.

Furthermore, there are challenges to adoption. Some 37% of respondents said that cultural challenges are one of their biggest barriers. And while that’s certainly something that can be overcome, it will be down to leaders to win the hearts and minds of their organisation.

A major hurdle for public services will be ensuring that, as they transition to cloud, no one is left behind.

There are also instances when cloud simply isn’t an option or a right fit for public services. In fact, 9% of departments and services have targets of being a mere 10% cloud based in three years’ time. Also, there are at least two NHS Trusts that currently have no plans to use the cloud.

This fragmentation could prove to be a problem, and a major hurdle for public services will be ensuring that, as they transition to cloud, no one is left behind.

It’s also important to remember that cloud migration is a journey, not a destination as described in our white paper on the topic. In the context of the government’s broader strategy and vision for our public service’s infrastructure, the public sector must not to rush or force cloud adoption, as it could be detrimental in the long-term.

Benefits of cloud

When it comes to the benefits of cloud, there’s no ambiguity. More than half (54%) of respondents said organisational agility was the biggest benefit – agility being defined as: ‘the ability to move data around and take advantage of new commercial or technological opportunities to optimise costs and improve services.’

This comes as no surprise when we look at post-COVID trends. Customer expectations were already quickly raising before the crisis started. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation for many in the private sector – so it’s only natural the public expect the same conveniences when it comes to public services. Therefore, the ability to efficiently handle data is a must.

The need for smooth data portability and access is echoed by 46% of respondents, who selected ‘negating service interruption’ as a key challenge for data strategy implementation.

Looking further into the challenges that cloud can address, 43% selected operating-cost control and flexibility of service as key issues, and 32% selected staying up to date with the latest technologies. Cloud providers of course often do provide flexible pricing models and a constant flow of updates – which address all of these issues.

Ultimately, the future is looking positive for public services. There’s of course work to be done – when is there not?! – but the good news is, COVID-19 hasn’t damped the appetite to transform. For successful cloud migration, public sector organisations must look at more manageable and cost-effective pathways to the cloud. This should include clear steps to ensure maximum roll-out flexibility and minimal impact on service delivery.

And with the public’s expectations ever raising, the challenge for public services is to follow through with their ambitions and fully embrace the benefits of cloud.

Tim Skinner, UK Public Sector Director of NetApp, the cloud-led, data-centric software company, will be judging the Best Use of Data and Technology category at this year’s Civil Service Awards. 

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