Cloud technology

Risk and reward: Why is the public sector falling in love with hybrid multicloud?

A report from Gartner last month claimed that governments around the world are increasing  IT spend this year by 7.6%. That may not seem a lot, but in the context of volatile economies and pressures on services, what equates to nearly $590 billion is actually quite substantial. The public sector has traditionally been a slow burn when it comes to IT but that is now changing fast.

Of course, it’s not what you spend, it’s how you spend it. The UK government is a good example of this, initially, with its cloud first policy and then its shared services strategy, the latter, a project that has spent millions of pounds on technology over the years to streamline services to relieve the burden of bureaucracy while lowering costs and improving the citizen experience. The cloud first policy was initially an attempt to underpin public sector transformations with an idealised view of cloud, rather than the realities of managing a complex mix of data needs. Understandably, cloud first has had its critics but in many ways hybrid multicloud adoption  has saved the policy and almost certainly helped the shared services strategy enable five different clusters of government departments to start sharing cloud services.

The point is that these large, often legacy technology-riddled organisations have to modernise to be able to operate in a more data-centric world. Their data needs are varied and increasingly complex, demanding a more intelligent approach to data management. Data sovereignty and cybersecurity are two big drivers forcing their hand, regardless of the fact that initial interest was around finding cost efficiencies in buying and supporting IT products and services. It’s interesting because it reflects industry patterns of cloud adoption, the public and private sectors in many ways converging around a shared need – how to protect and manage data better and in particular, how to remain in control of data, with the same look and feel regardless of whether it is on-premise, co-location or in the public cloud. Data is a strategic asset for every organisation and the imperative is to keep data up-to-date, secure, and readily available while complying with GDPR and other privacy requirements.

As part of the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index report with researcher Vanson Bourne, we looked at the impact of hybrid multicloud on public sector organisations across the globe. This included federal/national government organisations, and state and local government, public educational institutions and public healthcare organisations. The aim was to highlight the cloud plans, priorities, challenges and experiences of IT professionals in the public sector around the world and how they compare to industry.

The figures show that over the next three years, public sector organisations will go on a hybrid multicloud spending spree. The percentage of public sector organisations that have deployed hybrid multicloud today (8%) trails that of the full global response pool (12%) by a third. Industry is clearly ahead but the forecast is a different story. Close to three-fourths of both public sector respondents (73%) and industry (74%) plan to be running multiple IT environments by 2026.

Within this, hybrid multicloud penetration is expected to reach 39% by 2026, with 11% exclusively in public clouds. Exclusive use of hosted IT infrastructure services will increase to 14% penetration. Public sector respondents expect their use of all other IT operating models to decline during this period.

Cyber risk

Major concerns across public sector organisations  – and, to be fair, these also reflect some of the top priorities of all industries – are cybersecurity and data sovereignty. Regulations such as GDPR have been fundamental in putting pressure on organisations across sectors, to be more accountable for data management and privacy.

Local government, schools and healthcare organisations have been increasingly targeted in recent months – a UK government report into schools, for example, shows that while business breaches fell slightly to 32% this year compared with 2022, higher education (85%), further education (82%) and secondary schools (63%) have all suffered increased breaches.

While this is just one study, it’s indicative of the broader trend and drivers behind government strategies to adopt multicloud. The EU has its own plan for cloud deployment, as does the US. Modernisation is at the heart of these strategies, with the ability to run modern enterprise applications that leverage AI/ML and automation, which limits the risk of  human error (who still wants to use spreadsheets?) and increase data transparency and protection. As Gartner says in its report, replacing legacy applications is a major driver for public sector change, with 57% of government CIOs, for example, increasing funding for application modernisation this year (up from 43% in 2022).

Our research also reflects this, when respondents were asked to name the single most important factor driving their IT infrastructure purchasing decisions. Cybersecurity (13%), data sovereignty (13%), data protection and recovery (11%) and sustainability (9%) topped the key responses. Interestingly, the cost was chosen by just 4%.

Nearly all respondents (98%) indicated that they had moved applications between IT infrastructures in the past 12 months, with 47% citing a desire to improve their company’s security posture or their ability to meet regulatory requirements as a key reason. The hope of accelerating data access speeds was a moderately distant second reason for application mobility (39%), followed by a wish to integrate with cloud-native services, such as AI and machine learning (38%). 

The reward of visibility 

Shifting to hybrid multicloud however is not the panacea for the public sector. It does come with challenges, particularly around complexity. Most of our survey respondents (94%) did agree that having a single platform to manage their diverse private and public infrastructures would be ideal. It follows that most respondents mentioned data-centric management, security, backup and storage issues as the most challenging aspects of managing growing hybrid IT environments that span multiple datacentre and cloud borders.

Data analytics and orchestration (44%) was chosen by most as a key mixed-infrastructure management challenge, followed by disaster recovery (43%) and data storage costs (42%). While 93% of respondents from the public sector agree that tackling their cross-cloud management challenges requires visibility into where all data resides across the extended IT infrastructure, far fewer (36%) report actually having that visibility today.

The visibility findings indicate a ‘capabilities gap’ that reflects room for improvement in the availability of integrated tools for hybrid IT operations, as IT shops can’t manage, secure, synchronise, or analyse what they can’t see. The clear opportunity here is for a single oversight of infrastructure that enables visibility of data and underpins accountability and compliance.

What is also clear is that the public sector is evolving quickly. It is prioritising data protection and security, while focused on the necessity of increased data visibility and platform modernisation and agility. The next three years will prove to be a litmus test for public sector modernisation, shedding its legacy past once and for all and embracing scalability and data management capabilities through a hybrid multicloud infrastructure, often a unique combination of data centres, public cloud, edge, colocation and perhaps some legacy technology that delivers a critical service today - benefits, for example, that is not easily replatformed or replaced.

Ultimately this is good news. Public sector organisations will have more freedom of choice in choosing technology, avoiding vendor lock-in, and have the freedom to locate apps and data where they best meet their unique needs. They will be able to formulate their own cloud environment that best suits their strategic priorities and adjust over time as needed. They will need to tackle complexity and nearly all agreed (95%) expressed a desire to have a single place to see and manage the many aspects of their diverse infrastructures. This is now a sector that will be worth watching with interest.

To learn more about the report and findings, please download the full fifth Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index, here.

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