On April 28, 2021, Noord hosted a virtual boardroom in association with Zerto. The event comprised an introduction by Tony Walsh, Strategic Account Director, and Steve Blow, Systems Engineering Manager (EMEA), followed by a discussion among senior professionals on simplifying the path to the cloud.
Opening of the session
Tony Walsh gave a brief overview of his role at Zerto, heading up the company’s public sector function.
Steve Blow touched on his background in systems administration and solutions architecture, which had ultimately brought him to systems engineering at Zerto.
He explained that Zerto is a single platform offering continuous data protection, regardless of the use case. The platform deals with areas such as continuous back-up, long-term retention, data mobility, and security and compliance, among others. Its orchestration and automation simplify processes linked to data migrations and disaster recovery, while the overarching analytics ensures complete visibility of all estates.
Steve then noted that while 88% of organisations say they have a cloud-first strategy, challenges around cloud include compliance and regulation; licensing; lock-in; security and data privacy; and cost assessments. Moreover, while 93% of these organisations say that they have a multi-cloud strategy, this presents its specific challenges, including platform compatibility; application knowledge and support; shadow IT; and hardware compatibility.
Reasons for attending and key challenges
Participants represented a range of organisations, from public sector bodies (including emergency services, councils, and healthcare) to the higher education and private sector.
One attendee representing the emergency services noted that there is a misconception within the organisation that the cloud isn’t safe, which presents a barrier to adoption. One representative from the higher education sector echoed this sentiment, noting that they had seen little appetite to move from on-site systems. In this regard, it was noted that a cultural shift is required to transition from siloed ways of working to collaborating and embedding security across organisations.
Another challenge is taking a view where there are legacy systems and applications based on very different technology, as was the case at a borough council.
One business was working entirely remotely and was entirely cloud native. However, it was noted that public sector bodies, such as councils, are often lacking access to the skills and expertise of other organisations. Moreover, it was felt that the cloud had become a buzzword in recent times, but that organisations need to carefully consider the benefit for the end-user and be well informed before they migrate systems. They also need to consider the potential business benefit and return on investment, which they could perhaps elaborate more clearly by creating technology roadmaps tailored to their specific organisational requirements.
Expanding on this, Steve noted that there is a misconception that moving to the cloud means that security and data protection is automatically taken care of, yet the cloud cannot offer a fix-all solution. There are, however, ‘instant wins’. For example, organisations can leverage the benefits of scale by moving dynamic workloads to the cloud.
Participants also discussed the political pressures within the public sector which, along with quite a rigid and reactive (rather than proactive) organisational culture and a lack of general understanding about the cloud and its purpose, can pose real barriers. A case in point was the rollout of the cloud by one organisation, which was not pre-approved by the technical teams and was presented as a ‘magical’ solution to the board of executives. Upon implementation, the costs had mounted up and the company in question had to return to its old systems. In this context, there was recognition that many organisations require a great deal of advice and guidance to simplify what is often a very complex path to the cloud.
It was noted that the journey to the cloud will require different skill sets as organisations progress and that even now there are skills deficits. Interestingly, one attendee noted that their business is entirely contingent, in that it does not own any data centres or even hire employees on the basis that resources – including skills – quickly become outdated, given that service lives are generally time-restricted.
By way of comparison, another company was confident that existing employees could be upskilled. It was adopting an approach based on continuous learning to foster collaboration among senior technology leaders and create a ‘safe space’ for learning.
Staged approaches to the cloud
Steve noted that while there is a tendency to see the cloud in black and white, organisations could perhaps be more selective in their approach. For example, one of Zerto’s clients had decided to use a cloud site as a disaster recovery target, which had saved money on hardware and power as the company now only needs to pay for storage, and only pays more in the event of failover performance.
On this point, one business representative mentioned that outsourcing some systems still left companies with the problem of unused space. Moreover, a council representative noted that it is difficult to compare cost savings when working with capital versus revenue-based models – and therefore difficult to make the business case for shutting down physical data centres.
Tackling resilience in the emergency services
The point was made that while cloud-based solutions would benefit the performance of control room solutions, they did not necessarily offer greater resilience if the backup link is lost. Alternatively, in a hypothetical hybrid scenario, critical infrastructure would remain on-site, but this would be at the expense of the benefits of the cloud, which seemed to kill the business case for cloud-based solutions.
In response to this quandary, the sentiment was that with adequate pre-planning, emergency services could migrate to the cloud, particularly by approaching the problem from a service point of view and drilling down into the specific system requirements. In addition, one suggestion was to ensure links to buildings are located in diverse locations to spread the risk of network disruption.
Steve also cited the example of two companies that had needed to protect their data centres during a hurricane. Zerto had helped them to move their workloads into the cloud and move them back again within minutes – a scenario that could be replicated for other organisations finding themselves in unforeseen circumstances.
SaaS and future strategies
One stakeholder from the education sector had seen a huge increase in SaaS applications. In contrast, a business representative felt that while SaaS would be useful for major domain solutions, there is a case for maintaining physical ownership of critical data. Similarly, within the police force, it was felt that many systems were too specialized, so SaaS applications would likely be limited to analytics and OfficeSuite.
Approaching the matter from a different perspective, one attendee felt that it is important to start with what the data is trying to achieve rather than the landscape it will operate in. They also felt that having data in one place would likely make any considerations much easier.