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Running an on-premises data centre comes with a high cost attached - but is it realistic for the public sector to plan for a data centre-free future?

According to 2018 research by the EU-funded EURECA project, the UK public sector currently spends around £3.4 billion per annum running on-premises data centres and server rooms. It’s a vast figure that speaks of the high direct and indirect, capex and opex costs that come with managing your own IT infrastructure - costs like server hardware, networking equipment, facilities, rent, power, staff and more.

With this in mind, it seems obvious that public sector organisations - faced with growing pressure to do more with less - should want to address this spend by moving some or all of their IT to the cloud. This could potentially reduce costs and free up resources for them to focus on more strategic IT projects. However, many still haven’t taken the first step.

A recent Freedom of Information request by SolarWinds, for example, found less than a third (30%) of NHS trusts and less than two-thirds (61%) of central government departments had adopted “any level” of public cloud in their organisation.

So what’s stopping public sector organisations from moving more of their IT to the public cloud? And is it realistic for them to plan for a data centre-free future? Here, we look at two of their common challenges.

Find out more about the challenges facing CIOs in 2018 in our report: Delivering Digital Transformation Demands Agile Workspaces – Where are Organisations Today?

Putting trust in the public cloud

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that public cloud has had a slow journey to acceptability for organisations that hold sensitive and regulated data - public sector organisations foremost among them.

By way of example, the SolarWinds survey - dated February 2018 - found more than three-fifths of NHS trusts (61%) described security and compliance as their main barrier to public cloud adoption. Compare this to our own CIO research from September 2018, in which 47% of CIOs from a cross-spectrum of UK enterprises said the same.

However, the tide is steadily turning as cloud reaches maturity. Central government has invested heavily in pushing local authorities and the NHS to use the cloud, and well-worn arguments such as the case for data sovereignty are no longer as relevant as they once were now that each of the big-three public cloud providers have opened UK and European data centres.

As such, we expect to see less pushback against the use of the cloud in the public sector with time - especially where suppliers can provide comfort that customers’ security and compliance requirements will be met regardless of the scale of the migration.

The role of legacy applications in the public sector

The second challenge stopping public sector organisations from going data centre-free is their reliance on legacy systems that aren’t simple or economical to move out of the server room. Writing for Local Gov in June, Citrix Managing Director UK & Ireland, Darren Fields described these applications as “the main culprit for local authorities’ struggle to fully embrace the cloud”.

With some legacy systems, the solution is obvious - they need to be replaced, or else phased out so fewer users rely on them over time and their on-premises footprint can be reduced. However, not all on-premises applications can be replaced or retired so easily, and so will need to be re-engineered and virtualised in order to be delivered from the cloud themselves.

In this instance, one of the biggest obstacles for the public sector is a lack of necessary skills. According to research from the Cloud Industry Forum and its Public-Sector Specialist Interest Group, as many as 40% of public sector organisations don’t have the right skills in place to support digital transformation.

Unless these organisations can upskill, it’ll be incumbent on them to work with suppliers that can support them in re-engineering applications for a cloud-first world.

Getting started on the journey to the cloud

All in all, public sector organisations have a long way to go to become data centre-free. However, there’s nothing stopping them from starting the journey today. With the right strategy, moving to the public cloud can deliver value fast, and drive significant agility and flexibility gains over the long term.

For a more in-depth look at the challenges facing CIOs today, check out our research report.

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