IaaS – considerations for the public sector

Developments in Infrastructure as a Service is encouraging more public sector IT managers to reconsider their platform options. Paul Timms, managing director at MCSA, explains why

Like most industries, public sector organisations are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and streamline operations. In a heavily scrutinised environment, reliability and value for money are two of many key drivers to improving return on investment for IT assets. As a result, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is now becoming an increasingly relevant and viable option for any serious business IT user.

With ‘as a service’ offerings expanding rapidly, IaaS provides familiar computing resources - such as vm’s, servers, storage, networks, applications and services - which can be provisioned and managed to suit changing business requirements over time.

In the past, organisations raced to explore on-demand cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft AZURE platforms. However, we are now seeing public sector organisations that need a technically and financially stable IT platform building their strategy around pay per use models. The new generation of IaaS provision can deploy a physical infrastructure hosted either on-site or at their trusted IT provider’s data centre. This development is encouraging more public sector IT managers to take another look at this once overlooked option.

Overcoming obstacles
Although the early ‘as a service’ offerings have helped show that a pay-per-use model has great financial benefits, it is fair to say there have been some issues around education and management of these kinds of services in the public cloud. Failure to grasp the direct correlation of management versus cost has led to many organisations incurring big public cloud bills. Indeed, with data security high on the agenda for all businesses, use of the public cloud can be an issue in itself – for many public sector organisations there is a requirement to know precisely where and how data is held.
There can also be resistance to moving from legacy IT systems to a new IaaS model. For individual organisations, certain applications will have been designed to work on certain platform in a certain way and there can be understandable reluctance to moving to an ‘as a service’ platform over which they have little control.

‘As a service’ platforms can also create staff and resourcing questions. Organisations will have people in-house who have managed the IT and underpinned the business for years and are loyal toward them. There are clear business benefits to keeping such skills in-house or at least re-focusing on the new wave of applications and services which could add value to the core business function. Having an infrastructure foreign to those people is not ideal.

However, introducing IaaS based on a physical configuration that is known to the customer can overcome these obstacles. It can be a familiar technology platform, known to be stable and flexible so that applications will continue to work for the period of the service. A public sector organisation can choose to have its services on site or in any number of data centres across the country, depending on preferences.

Benefits of IaaS
Public sector organisations seeking to futureproof their IT infrastructure in an ever-changing marketplace where expenditure is closely scrutinised are turning to IaaS in increasing numbers. The drive to ‘do more with less’ means that budgets to replace ageing hardware may not always be available, while the pressure to adopt new technologies in order to improve public services and operational efficiencies continues to rise.

Cost saving
One of the main reasons why IaaS is so appealing to the public sector is its cost saving potential. It is a consumption-based model where organisations pay only for what they use, thereby avoiding large fixed monthly or annual fees for services they may not use. It is the natural progression for an organisation who sees a benefit of not investing all their budget on new IT infrastructure on day one, without a chance of seeing the full benefit realised until day 1,000.

Budgeting
IaaS is a good fit for organisations that recognise the benefit of spreading the cost of IT over time. By shifting IT infrastructure spend from capital expenditure to monthly operational costs, organisations get greater stability and visibility on their IT costs.

Scalability
Another key benefit of IaaS is the ability to scale up and down quickly in response to a public sector organisation’s requirements. This on-demand scalability provides added flexibility and greater agility to respond to changing opportunities and requirements.

Business continuity
With cyber attacks targeting critical public services never far from the headlines, business continuity is high on the agenda across the public sector. Organisations will often have several disparate locations with different technologies, disaster recovery and business continuity plans, making management very difficult. IaaS facilitates a consolidated disaster recovery approach, reducing costs, improving manageability and maximising system up-time for employees from wherever they happen to be.

Operational improvement
IaaS sees public sector organisations engage in a closer relationship with a trusted IT provider to underpin their IT in a world where it is critical to operations. Ultimately, free from the day to day burden of managing and maintaining IT infrastructure in the first place, the in-house team can focus on looking at how the current world of IT can help and improve their organisation.

The IaaS model also means that organisations can refresh systems more quickly and upgrade to new technologies more easily. IaaS providers generally have the latest, most powerful storage, servers and networking technology to accommodate the needs of their customers.

The new IT infrastructure purchasing model reflects the fact that the subscription economy is evolving. As consumers we are becoming used to paying for things on a monthly basis – mobile phones, cars and streaming services, to name but a few. Now IT service providers are reacting to this change in buyer behaviour with an increasing number of ‘as a service’ offerings, and forward-thinking public sector organisations are beginning to recognise and exploit the benefits when it comes to futureproofing their IT infrastructure. A ‘cloud first’ offering, IaaS has now matured into a viable option for public sector IT teams to consider when developing a sustainable, stable, secure and scalable future IT strategy.

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