Peterborough City Council moves IT to AWS cloud

Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough City Council is turning to the cloud as it cuts millions of pounds from its budget.

The local authority is one of many impacted by the government’s austerity measures, with Whitehall reducing its funding by £25 million in the next fiscal year.

As a result, IT director Richard Godfrey is targeting efficiency savings to try and help close that gap, and believes migrating to the cloud will help.

“Our starting point was really about how do we start doing things differently, more efficiently to drive down the budget deficit that we have got,” he explains.

“That really started the entire process of looking at how staff work, what they do, the hours they work plus mobility and everything like that.”

This focus on efficiency savings and mobile working led to Godfrey deciding the council must “go as cloud as possible”.

At a glance

  • Problem: Overcoming £25 million shortfall in budget
  • Products considered: Sungard, Amazon Web Services
  • Products selected: Amazon Web Services
  • Project duration: Ongoing since September 2014

The authority has an onsite server room, but most of the equipment is at least five years old, meaning Godfrey’s first step was to decide whether to replace the hardware or look at a different model.

“We looked at a range of hosted providers and what they could offer,” he explains. “You have also then got the availability.

“With our own server room, our guarantee is much, much lower than what a high-availability datacentre would be.”

The choice

Godfrey looked a number of vendors, the main one being Sungard. The vendor has a long-term relationship with Serco, the council’s IT outsourcing provider.

But rather than either keeping infrastructure on-premise or moving it to Sungard, Godfrey decided to shift it to Amazon Web Services (AWS), a public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud, citing cost as the main factor.

“It's massively, massively cheaper to be honest,” he admits. “Also, you only pay as you use the servers, so you can start to turn test servers off and not pay anything for them. “

But Godfrey adds that what also attracted him to the cloud provider is the range of services offered on top of a standard server.

The implementation

The decision to move to the cloud was announced in September this year, but the authority is just at the very start of moving its main server estate.

“We should be up and running with the first servers by the end of January,” he says.

Other than that, Godfrey and his team have virtualised much of the council’s IT estate.

It replaced its old Oracle finance system with kit from Agresso, which is currently being built on AWS.

The authority has also deployed cloud file-sharing tool Box to store and share files, as well as Okta’s cloud identity service to boost security.

On top of that, the council’s Citrix farm was rebuilt in AWS, and had been in use for a month at the time Cloud Pro spoke with Godfrey.

“It wasn't complicated overall [to rebuild],” Godfrey explains. “My server guys are the ones that did it, but there have been no issues that we've had with it so far.”

Now Peterborough council proposes to move 280 more servers over to AWS.

The move allows Godfrey’s team to consider retiring legacy apps that have built up over the years.

He says the team is taking time to make sure everything is covered within the server room, even the apps that are no longer needed.

“The good thing about AWS is even if you move to it now, you can turn it off tomorrow and you have only been charged for a day's use,” he says.

He adds the cloud has given the council the opportunity to reconfigure the architecture of the server estate.

“The current estate has grown organically over the last five or six years and there has been no real high level design that puts it into the best architecture practices,” he says.

“So what we are looking at doing now is moving it in a way that really benefits us, but also we are looking at an application rationalisation programme that then rips out as many legacy applications as possible.”

The whole of the council benefits

Godfrey says the council will benefit from the cloud move by gaining savings caused by helping staff work more efficiently.

He adds: “We are going to push digital but we are not turning the other services off.

“What we want to do is create services that are so simple and easy to use as an online experience that the paper and phone channels and the face-to-face channels fall away naturally.”

Next steps

With much of his infrastructure now sitting in the cloud, Godfrey now plans to retire those paper-based processes by introducing more efficient ways of working.

Part of this could be achieved by equipping staff with Chromebooks, another cost-centred decision. It is a chance to do away with traditional laptops, as well as costly Microsoft licences, says Godfrey.

“There is nothing saved on a Chromebook, so you don't really need the encryption software or virus software," he says.

“If it is lost, it is not the end of the world, although we do hope it is not lost, because it is effectively a dumb device.”

The lightweight aspect of the Chromebook should make working in the field much easier, but Godfrey also eyes another cost saving by getting people using Google Docs, Google's alternative to Microsoft Office.

“We can get them used to using these tools so if we get to a point where we say look, we can potentially turn Microsoft off, we have got the users coming to us and saying ‘well we've been using Google for ages, can we not move to that?’,” he explains.

“So the users are dictating that we are now moving to this system.”

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.