Government agencies have often been criticised as slow to adapt, but that could hardly be said of the New South Wales Government in recent years.
The State Government has led the charge on digital drivers’ licences, birth certificates, check-in systems, developed a Quantum Terminal for specialist quantum computing companies and other innovations that are yet to be introduced. Now, it has put a stake in the ground for its cloud future, recently declaring more than 95 per cent of its major IT infrastructure investments are expected to be in the public cloud.
But with such a clear and bold declaration comes a responsibility to properly execute it and, in the case of public cloud, to be mindful of the sometimes painful lessons learned by early adopters.
The term ‘hybrid’ has become synonymous with solving modern challenges – hybrid vehicles to help solve climate change, hybrid work to bring long-overdue flexibility to how we do our jobs, and hybrid multicloud technology to connect all the modern applications and workloads we need to work.
Hybrid awareness is essential when it comes to government IT infrastructure investments, even those geared almost entirely to the public cloud; it’s about recognising that cloud is an operating model, not a final destination.
In other words, applications can’t just be broken down into the ‘these belong in the public cloud’ category. They may need to be fluid like water, easily transitioning between different public cloud providers, as well as private and edge cloud environments, to best suit the applications’ contextual needs, as these needs are dynamic and can shift on a dime.
Moving applications must be as simple as crossing a bridge. There will always be varying levels of IT skills, resources and budgets across government agencies, and smaller agencies with less shouldn’t be restricted if the public cloud dominance is to be universal.
NSW government agencies have already demonstrated their hybrid cloud prowess – state-owned corporation WaterNSW has reaped its benefits, automating data collection from its network of more than 4,600 measurement gauges and sensing devices installed in waterways across the state. As a result, it has been able to develop its WaterInsights Portal to share real-time insights on water quality, levels and flow rates with the community.
“Hybrid awareness is essential when it comes to government IT infrastructure investments, even those geared almost entirely to the public cloud.”
The NSW Government’s IT spend is estimated to have reached a record $4 billion in 2020, a nine per cent rise on the previous year, and all while public cloud remained only a fraction of IT spend.
However, agencies are currently at different stages in their cloud journey, and two of the core issues we’ve encountered with public cloud is cost control and ‘cloud lock in’. Dropbox famously revealed it saved more than A$100 million moving its mammoth volumes of data away from the public cloud and into its own custom-built storage infrastructure.
While state government agencies operate differently to file hosting services, this serves as an important lesson in how costs can spiral and therefore how important it is to have the ability to quickly shift workloads between environments when costs rise.
Data sovereignty has been one of the most prominent themes in the past two years as the combination of growing privacy concerns, an increase in cybercrime and more fluid workforces and workplaces make organisations question: where is my data and who has access to it?
This is of particular importance to government agencies that hold sensitive citizen data. Public cloud infrastructure means that data is not stored on infrastructure owned by state agencies – it’s more likely to be on servers belonging to one of six multinational companies that hold 85 per cent market share of Australia’s infrastructure-as-a-service market.
“Moving applications must be as simple as crossing a bridge. There will always be varying levels of IT skills, resources and budgets across government agencies, and smaller agencies with less shouldn’t be restricted if the public cloud dominance is to be universal.”
This presents another fundamental argument for the benefits of hybrid multicloud. It ensures organisations can quickly move data and applications between different cloud environments, pulling data into owned, sovereign infrastructure if there is an issue over, for example, the jurisdiction of the data depending on where the cloud provider is located.
As it does so well, the NSW Government has put a firm stake in the ground on its cloud ambitions, creating a clear framework and direction for its myriad agencies to follow and for others to learn from.
To drive this strategy home, the government needs to give careful consideration to the true nature of data and modern applications, to enable flexibility and fluidity at the core of where data is stored and demand that its providers service agencies in line with this consideration and recognition.
Getting this balance right will help to maximise the government’s ability to deliver digital services to citizens and businesses across the state on its own terms. The aim should be to remove bottlenecks, cost risk and potential sovereignty concerns so innovation can flow.
*Matt Maw is Head of Technology Strategy for Nutanix A/NZ
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