Hello, I’m Tim Hinchey - DVSA’s Head of Cloud and Infrastructure.
In my job, I’m regularly asked 2 questions about cloud computing. “What’s the cloud?” is the first, and after I give an excited (but often slightly technical) answer, it’s usually followed with, “So what’s the big deal?”
In this post, I want to answer both of those questions.
What cloud computing actually is
A quick search for a definition on cloud computing returns statements that cloud is all about the internet.
Where there is some truth in these statements, it is not the full picture. Public cloud computing is completely achievable without creating a single internet-facing service.
I prefer to think of cloud computing as a way of storing, processing, and retrieving data and software on shared technology. Cloud computing is about pooling the power of machines and sharing it with others.
The 3 main services areas for cloud computing are:
- fully managed applications - this is called ‘software-as-a-service’ (SaaS)
- providing a managed platform for developing, testing and deploying your applications - this is called ‘platform-as-a-service’ (PaaS)
- providing a managed physical technology infrastructure or network virtually, so you don’t need to buy your own hardware - this is called ‘infrastructure-as-a-service’ (IaaS)
Using the public cloud
The government’s Cloud First policy means we consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first, before we consider any other option.
And that’s the public cloud, rather than a community or private deployment model.
There are a few myths about the public cloud, though. So let's cover those off before we go any further. It’s not:
- an area where all of your information is publicly available
But the public cloud is:
Yes, they are big statements - and of course they come with conditions and caveats (but that's something for another blog post!).
Most importantly though, the public cloud is here now - and actually has been for the last 11 years.
What the ‘big deal’ is
For us at DVSA, cloud computing is really important. We’re a government agency providing services to millions of users, with staff spread right across Great Britain. We’re determined to get value for money in everything we do.
These aren’t traits unique to DVSA. So here are 9 reasons I think cloud computing is a really big deal for us - and organisations like us.
1. Considerably reduced costs
Global cloud vendors can achieve economies of scale we never could. With their costs reduced considerably, it means a better deal for us.
Costs can also be very flexible - many public cloud providers allow customers to pay for what they use.
It’s a bit like electricity and water. When you’re not washing the dishes, you don’t keep running the hot water and paying for it. You turn the tap off and stop paying.
Now, the same goes for IT. If you’re not using it, why should you pay for it?
2. Availability on demand
IT is mission critical for most organisations in some way or another. IT must be available when it’s needed.
This is very costly to do with your own IT - it needs to be designed to cope with the busiest periods.
In the past, I’ve often seen servers running at less than 30% utilisation. Over 70% of what you’ve paid for isn’t being used most of the time.
Cloud providers allow for availability when it’s needed. They scale up and down based on demand, not on prediction or peaks.
They also usually provide a service level agreement (SLA) on resources, which are sometimes negotiable for a better service.
3. Resilience and disaster prevention
Being able to provide and maintain an acceptable level of service when you have faults and challenges is vital for IT systems. It’s known as ‘resilience’.
It’s usually very expensive to set up on-premises, as it often means every part is duplicated (N+1), to make sure systems stay up if one part fails.
Public cloud providers make this simple. They build this resilience into their core product, or take on that full responsibility, again by providing an SLA for uptime.
Sometimes they provide more intelligent resilience options to allow customers to build disaster prevention into their systems.
4. Capacity to achieve rapid growth
Organisations tend to experience massive digital growth. Keeping up with the capacity you need is costly and difficult if you buy hardware, install it, configure it and move your data to it. There’s also a risk to the existing data in expanding.
Public cloud providers are built to huge scales and expand invisibly to customers. They make sure there’s space for their customers to achieve rapid growth when they need it.
5. Maintain functionality using less physical space
Using the public cloud allows customers to maintain functionality, but offload the responsibility and actual running of many aspects of that solution to a vendor.
This means less physical space is occupied by the organisation. Not only does this help the estate portfolio, but also helps with green credentials. Major public cloud providers operate their data centres to excellent, usually world-leading, standards.
6. More time to optimise your IT
In public cloud solutions, vendors provide the underlying infrastructure and IT components. They manage them and make sure they’re secure and available.
This allows the customer’s IT department to focus on the configuration and optimisation of solutions, instead of the installation and management. More time can be used to get more value from these investments.
7. Access to the best professionals and industry-leading software
Due to the complex nature of creating globally available, public cloud services, the market’s made up of pockets of expert vendors. It gives customers the best professionals in the world contributing to their IT systems.
They make sure best-practice is followed and contribute heavily to the future development of the technology. It means customers get access to the latest leading-edge software available. This is something difficult to do on-premises since there’s always risk (and a lot of work involved) to upgrade technology.
Public cloud vendors put a big focus on open source. Customers can take full advantage of this and build solutions that are portable and containerised, simply meaning they can be moved more easily in the future so you’re not locked in to a particular vendor.
8. Mobile working
I’ve seen organisations increase their mobile working by using some simple Software as a Service (SaaS) applications.
Stopping the need to connect to the corporate network means staff can quickly access their information wherever they are (as long as they fall within the security boundaries put in place).
Cloud platforms are usually built to be globally accessible. They use global solutions, such as the content delivery network, to make the data, application, and information available across the world, without a hit on performance.
9. Working together
Cloud computing can help you work together across departments and teams, and with customers and other organisations
I’ve seen teams remove the long-winded email approval exchange by having a single source for documents. And I’ve seen organisations create ‘cross-connections’ with other organisations to share information privately, but achieve similar performance to sharing a local area network (LAN).
There are so many examples of working together and so many technologies to enable it - all powered by accessible, secure, scalable and flexible cloud solutions.
How we’re using cloud computing at DVSA
We’re using cloud computing more and more at DVSA. Here are some of the ways we’re using it so far:
- our service for MOT testers to record MOT test results uses IaaS and PaaS within Amazon Web Services
- we use applications directly as SaaS, such as Microsoft’s Office 365 and ServiceNow - a service management tool that's allowed us to run our own IT first-line support team
- to run a large transformation portfolio that includes Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and other cloud offerings, which will allow us to focus on road safety, modernise our services and reduce costs
DVSA is taking advantage of all the benefits I’ve talked about. We’ll continue to exploit cloud offerings to provide the best services to the public, partners and our staff.
Keep up to date with our work by signing up for email alerts or following DVSA digital on Twitter.
Comment by Charles Sweeney posted on
I still don't know what "the cloud" is! I too use Amazon Web Services. Their servers are still servers sitting in a data-centre, as servers have always done.
Two things I don't like about "the cloud":
1. It's a buzz word, and I have a natural aversion to buzz words.
2. It gives the impression that it's something floating in space, and isn't simply servers sitting in a data-centre like they've always done.
Yes, the way they operate now with server "instances", not actual individual machines, is very handy. As you say, you can start them and stop them at any time, and only pay for what you use. Very handy.
Also, they are very scale-able, which is handy too.
Good though, to see the Government using cost-efficient systems. All you need to do now is get rid of the propriety software, Microsoft for example, and use open-source software, saving us a fortune (how many Government PCs with Windows on them @ £100 a time?)!
My site, regisearch.co.uk is hosted on an AWS instance in London (not floating on a cloud somewhere!). I get MOT history data from you, using the Trade API. Good to know that my server doesn't have far to go to contact your server!
Nice to hear from you. Good luck in the job.
Comment by Tim Hinchey posted on
Thank you for your reply and thoughts.
I share your view on ‘buzzwords’ and is one of the reasons I wanted to share my views around this very well marketed term.
My focus was to show the benefits and what it means to us within the DVSA, and with as little technical detail as possible!
We are using more and more open source here at DVSA and will continue to do so when the particular technologies or products match or surpass functionality from licensed products. That said, there is also an associated cost and risk with open source, usually down to the lack of support and vulnerability fixes carried out on them. We determine this case-by-case, for those reasons and others.
I’d like to reassure you that we also exploit our licensed products wherever possible, to gain further value from them and prevent spend elsewhere, while always ensuring the protection of our data and information.
Great to hear about your application and the link you have to us, perhaps share a little more on what it does for readers?
Again, thank you for your comment.