HPE slams government’s Cloud-First policy

FoI request shows 63 percent of public sector organisations still do not have a dedicated cloud strategy and more than 70 percent of organisations’ infrastructure and 73 percent of data remains on premise

Posted 30 September 2021 by Christine Horton

HPE has described the government’s Cloud-First Policy as “inappropriate” for the public sector.

“The friction between government-led guidance and the realities of execution has, in some cases, left cloud strategies disjointed and incomplete or at worst, completely stalled,” said the vendor in a film it produced that explored the challenges public sector technology professionals face.

The film, Consciously Hybrid, featured a freedom of information (FoI) request issued in May 2021 which shows that, of the 400 public sector responses, 63 percent of organisations still do not have a dedicated cloud strategy.

This, said HPE, highlights the inappropriateness of a cloud-first approach for public sector organisations and raises the point that public cloud is not always the most efficient destination for workloads and data.

“It felt, perhaps, that some people, thought you could take things and simply move them into the cloud. When in reality, there is a lot more to it than that,” said Tracey Jessup, chief digital officer at Parliamentary Digital Service.

The FoI also discovered that more than 70 percent of organisations’ infrastructure and 73 percent of data remains on premise. HPE describes this situation as ‘Unconsciously Hybrid’ – an unplanned state of flux between public cloud, edge, and on-premises infrastructure.

“Legacy infrastructure, digital skills, and the readiness of procurement processes created barriers to adoption and, for many, impeded cloud strategies before they had even really begun,” it said. “Arguably, the policy placed too much focus on ‘where’ data and workloads should be hosted as opposed to ‘how’ and the desired outcomes.”

Data sovereignty, security and legacy compatibility

Additionally, attempting a ‘lift and shift’ approach before discovering that challenges around data sovereignty, security and legacy compatibility make ‘public cloud only’ an unviable option, said HPE.

The vendor pointed to organisations such as healthcare and education having unique critical applications such as electronic health record systems. However, some solution providers are not yet cloud-ready. As such it said public cloud strategies are competing against old technologies with limited, to no compatibility with the cloud, and must remain on-premises for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, government departments, defence services and healthcare, for example, house huge amounts of sensitive data; most will never be suitable for public cloud environments.

Indeed, 78 percent of public bodies state they have services that are unsuitable for public cloud migration.

‘Wave of legacy debt

Elsewhere the film noted that the responsibility of spending the ‘public purse’ efficiently, often hampers any prospect of a ‘fail fast, learn fast’ approach to digital transformation. Technology professionals feel a sense of innate responsibility to commit to government-led policies and follow through on their publicly available digital strategy mandates.

Steve Holt, an independent consultant and former technology professional within the Ministry of Justice said this was prevalent in the adoption of the 2013 Cloud-First Policy.

“You get this sprawl of technologies, capabilities and services that are everywhere within an organisation and cloud costs get out of control, because they don’t have the processes, the visibility and the understanding of what to do with those costs so cloud then looks unaffordable. Then they’ve also got the legacy debt that’s on-prem. You end up with a bow wave of legacy debt that is unpatchable, with a huge amount of critical services on it. It probably costs millions to get out of it and the risk is high.

“Then you’ve also got a cloud platform, or multiple cloud platforms that you don’t really understand why you’re in them and it’s costing you lots of money.”

Digital skills gap

The film also addressed the digital skills gap. It attributed this in part to the sector traditionally acquiring technology skills from contractors digital agencies, IT integrators and outsourcers rather than developing them in-house.

There are exceptions to this, and some of the larger central government departments are building their own technology transformation teams.

The government’s Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) function is helping cross-government professionalisation of technology roles and driving consistency. DDaT provides details of the skills needed to work at each role level within the public sector to encourage upskilling and training with transparency around role requirements.

Darren Howe, deputy director technology, Crown Commercial Services (CCS) said there is a requirement to educate, to develop and really get an understanding of emerging technologies.

“There is a significant requirement on suppliers to translate what that looks like and translate it into a language that public sector understands. There is far too much supplier jargon and public sector jargon – there needs to be a middle ground so that everyone understands what the emerging technology looks like.”