Public sector modernisation: how governments should think about cloud in 2021

Equinix Australia Pty Ltd
Monday, 01 March, 2021

Government agencies need to develop a comprehensive, forward-looking cloud plan that provides flexibility and security.

Government agencies and institutions in Australia have traditionally been quite cautious when it comes to migrating to public cloud solutions.

The juggernaut offerings from major industry players such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google, and AWS certainly have the potential to drive real innovation for government departments. Although there has been a distinct lack of fervour over the years, for a variety of security and compliance-related reasons, as well as difficulties fulfilling skills requirements.

However, the tide may now be turning. Back in October, the NSW government announced a new cloud strategy that mandates the adoption of a “public cloud first” ideology. The framework urges NSW government entities to migrate their services to public cloud, only allowing private cloud deployments “by exception”.

“It is a move that will accelerate innovation, modernise service delivery, and create better outcomes for the citizens of NSW,” Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “A modern and reliable cloud strategy and cloud policy will enable government-wide adoption of public cloud services in a united and secure manner.”

The new cloud strategy is likely to trigger a lot of innovation within NSW’s public sector. Although the announcement has sparked a wider conversation around the state of digital transformation in all state and federal government departments.

While it’s true that a lot of progress has been made on cloud migration in the last few years, most government agencies still have some work to do before they could be considered ‘cloud-first’.

“They still have a long way to go,” says Derek Paterson, Public Sector Lead at Equinix. “There are newer applications built from the ground up to be digital inside and out, so a lot of those can go straight to 100% cloud platforms.

“Having said that, there are thousands of complex, legacy applications that will be quite difficult to migrate and there are still a lot of ‘un-digitised’ systems that agencies still rely on today.”

In order to manage these cloud migrations, government agencies will need to develop a comprehensive, forward-looking plan. This isn’t about making one ‘set and forget’ decision, it’s about forging an elastic approach that provides flexibility and security for years to come.

Key challenges

As with any policy announcement of this variety, securing an adequate amount of funding to enable these transformations will be a challenge. There will be a few key pain-points here, including getting detailed funding applications through central agencies such as Treasury, lengthy procurement processes and shifting from a CAPEX to an OPEX model and accurately forecasting expenditure growth.

The new cloud strategy makes it slightly easier to apply for funding through cabinet in NSW, especially for smaller agencies and departments, as they can use the announcement as a proof point.

“It can be difficult, as the government bodies making the decision that agencies must modernise aren’t the same people who administer budgets,” Paterson continues. “Although agencies can certainly use the announcement as a trigger when they approach cabinet.”

Another major challenge will be around strategy and how to modernise legacy applications. Agencies will need to take a risk-based approach, assessing all of their mission-critical applications in terms of which ones can be migrated to public cloud and which should stay in GovDC data centres (private cloud).

If agencies have ageing, monolithic applications that just won’t be suitable to go straight to a cloud environment, they’ll need to think about a long-term modernisation strategy or possible retirement of those applications.

With any migration, security is also going to be a major pain-point, as government always needs to know where its data is stored. As such, data sovereignty becomes a crucial part of the story.

Everyone can appreciate that data is stored in the cloud, and even housed in Australia, but who else has access to it for administrative or support purposes? It’s vital that they have complete visibility and control over that.

Forging a best-of-breed hybrid/multi-cloud strategy

Government can be a scary place. Major Machinery of Government (MoG) changes mean departments can merge and priorities can rapidly shift, so flexibility and agility should be the defining elements of cloud migrations for government agencies.

That’s why a hybrid/multi-cloud (HMC) approach is the one to chase. These architectures allow agencies to be as dynamic as possible, especially when MoG changes occur. Agencies shouldn’t rely too much on one vendor for their cloud deployments, as feature sets are constantly changing and the services that department may be providing to citizens may also change.

If, for any reason, agencies decide that a certain vendor isn’t best meeting their needs, having a flexible HMC strategy enables them to seamlessly and rapidly switch up their providers. Deploying these workloads within interconnection facilities will provide even more flexibility, as it allows government to integrate cloud seamlessly with other infrastructure capabilities.

Interconnection provides the necessary collaboration to streamline information exchange across multiple agencies. It also allows agencies to quickly build high-capacity links to thousands of different cloud providers, including all of the major public cloud players, who are already housed within co-located interconnection facilities.

“Whilst Interconnection, accessibility and flexibility are enablers, they can’t come at the cost of control, security and governance,” adds Matthew Hurford, Regional APAC CTO at NetApp. “One way agencies can address both ends of this spectrum is to hold their data ‘next to’ the cloud.

“This is an effective strategy for agencies to preserve control over their data, whilst being able to expose it to the appropriate cloud provider for the right use case. All while avoiding the risk of potentially high egress charges.”

These ‘cloud-adjacent’ HMC architectures provide capacity to fulfill any requirement agencies might need, within much faster timeframes and at much lower cost.

Getting started

Ultimately, these cloud migration efforts are going to take time. The process to conduct application feasibility studies, funding assessments, funding applications and finalising procurement agreements can take up to two years, based on complexity. This means, if started now, transformation efforts might not actually begin until 2023.

Importantly, agencies can’t do everything on their own. They need to choose a partner with demonstrated public-sector expertise.

At Equinix, we want government to maintain ownership over their own data, while also being able to take advantage of cloud’s feature-set through HMC deployments. We recognise the security-related priorities governments need to think about — including information classification and aggregated data risk — and we have a track record of fulfilling those requirements.

As a co-located interconnection facility, Equinix provides high-capacity links to all major public clouds and thousands of private cloud service providers (CSPs). We also have all of the required accreditation applicable to the housing and storage of government data, as we already hold the vast majority of NSW state government hosted data through GovDC.

Not only can Equinix work with agencies to get their workloads to the cloud, we can foster a tailor-made hybrid/multi-cloud strategy suitable for any specific requirements. This is important for ensuring an agile approach that will cater to shifting priorities for years to come.

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