While central government CIOs are being exhorted to adopt a cloud-first policy, local authorities have been lagging behind their counterparts in central government when it comes to cloud computing. It’s hard to say why: maybe it’s lack of incentive. Or maybe, as Essex’s David Wilde suggests, it’s because it’s too complex, or there’s more suspicion of the cloud within local governments.
Perhaps even when local authorities do wander down the cloud path, what they’re doing isn’t really cloud at all. The CIO for Windsor and Maidenhead (or the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, to give it its full moniker), Rocco Labellarte sees this often. “You’ll hear of a local authority that says it has moved to cloud but when you look at what they’ve done, it’s not really cloud," he says. "For example, Warwickshire said it had gone to the cloud, but when you look at what they’ve done, it’s moving to hosted Exchange. You get a lot of people talking about it but they’re just dipping a toe into the water.”
So when Labellarte claims that RBWM is the first local council to move wholly to the cloud, he speaks with some authority – in fact, it was the forward-thinking approach that attracted Labellarte to RBWM in the first place.
He joined the authority at the tail-end of last year, having previously served as director of operations with Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. However, RBWM had already made the decision to move towards a cloud platform some time before he joined. “There was a strategy drawn up in 2010 by Arcus that was driving us to virtualise throughout,” Labellarte says, pointing out the move towards data centre virtualisation had been completed before he arrived. The next stage was to move towards the full cloud platform, but there was a difficulty here as Labellarte explains. “We wanted to go through a process of application rationalisation first," he says. "We were dealing with about 400 business apps (of which only about 20 or 30 were core). That was at the forefront of our strategy but it proved to be quite a challenge.”
In order not to slow down the move to cloud, Labellarte decided to push this process to the side and continue it in parallel. “We haven’t let it get in the way," he adds. "The plan is to rely heavily on the government’s Cloud Store with the IT department guiding the choices. We’re going to act as the system integrator and the implementer of Cloud Store.”
But it wasn’t just the cloud strategy that attracted Labellarte to the position. There was also the recognition that the whole authority had embraced cloud as the way forward – such unanimity is quite rare but Labellarte recognises it as crucial. “I wouldn’t have had come here if we hadn’t had this support from the council,” he says. “There’s massive support from the leader, managing director, councillors – right throughout the organisation.”
It seems like a bold move to go down the whole cloud route, but Labellarte says there was little choice. He says the infrastructure needed a complete revamp and, if RBWM had gone down the path of a hardware refresh, then it would have had to fork out around £1.5 million to replace equipment. "We wanted to avoid capital expenditure,” says Labellarte, adding that the cloud alternative had been a considerable cost saver. “We’re looking at saving £500,000 over two years. We’re not a big authority but that’s a saving around 15 to 20 per cent of our costs,” he says.
The authority has invested heavily in Microsoft technology; not always the first choice when it comes to cloud but, obviously, with a long pedigree when it comes to commercial implementations. The council did consider other options too.“We went with Office 365 and SharePoint,” says Labellarte. ""e had a look at Google Apps too but there some compatibility issues there.”
Microsoft is the leading choice in other areas for the council, with its HyperV virtualisation software powering the data centres. Rather more radically, the authority has moved away from BlackBerry s its mobile provider and is adopting Windows phones. In doing so, Labellarte says the council will benefit from a 60 per cent saving on its previous contract.
The move to cloud is not just about saving money, however. “There’s little point in moving from A to B and saving 50 pence if you haven’t improved the quality of service," says Labellarte. Indeed, the move to cloud should improve the way that it supports its employees and the services it offers residents. “At the moment, there’s a physical constraint on our web portal - we can only get 200 people on at a time - which limits the number that can work flexibly," Labellarte adds. "Moving to the cloud will get rid of that limitation.”
In addition to reducing costs and improving flexibility, there’s much rationalisation going on. “We have three separate content management systems - IT, finance, customers - and running three means that we have things spread out across the systems," Labellarte says. "We’re going to replace them with one."
The council has already rolled out its VDI implementation and cloud-based telephony is around the corner. Labellarte says the whole rollout should be completed by March next year.
Who the main cloud provider is going to be is still up in the air at the moment. Naturally, the council is looking at whether Windows Azure will fit the bill, but it’s also considering Amazon and Fujitsu. There’s no mandate that the authority has to use Microsoft technologies.
Labellarte believes the experience of Windsor and Maidenhead will demonstrate there are no limits to what councils can do. While it’s true that they’ve not been the most rapid adopters of cloud services, there’s nothing in the DNA of local government that should prevent them from going down this path. As Labellarte says: “We’re creating the blueprint. If we can do it, any council can.”
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