Virtualisation still a step too far for many public sector bodies

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London Borough of HillingdonLiverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust

With the help of virtualization technology, Hillingdon is now 90 per cent virtualized and has built a successful private cloud.

As a result, it is spending 60 per cent less time on IT maintenance and administration, avoided £810,000 in new physical server investment and is saving £93,000 a year on energy bills.

Liverpool Women's has witnessed similar benefits, with £310,000 saved in IT over the past year alone is enjoying significantly improved system availability.

From my own experience working for the public sector, institutions including local authorities and healthcare organisations appear to be further advanced on the virtualization roadmap than many central government departments.

One explanation is that these organisations are driven by more extreme financial pressure then their central government counterparts, and they are not faced with the mammoth, multi-year IT outsourcing contracts that characterised Central Government IT.

Only last month, the Public Administration Select Committee report on Government and IT found that a widespread lack of IT skills in Government and an over-reliance on contracting has led to inefficient infrastructures, a large amount of waste and substantial over-payment for technology and services.

While many of the 2000+ public service organisations will have some basic level of virtualization in place, a lack of confidence and understanding often hinders them to push virtualization into the more critical business applications and take full advantage of what virtualization can offer.

This hesitancy is no longer justified. Liverpool Women's, for example, managed to virtualize 90 per cent of its IT estate within a year and now runs its mission-critical clinical applications on its virtualized platform, a far more reliable and stable infrastructure.

Whilst security concerns are often cited as a reason for hesitancy, these days being virtualized and secure is absolutely possible.

Hillingdon Council, for example, recently achieved Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance and was able to show the auditors that security in a virtual environment was equal or even superior to that in a physical environment.

So, often it is the existing commercial model in the public sector that underlines the real reason for slow progress.

Many IT contracts are still charged on a per server basis, thus removing the incentive for suppliers to reduce the server count. Contracts of the future must encourage innovation, efficiency and enable application portability.

Virtualization technology is sufficiently mature today that the opportunity for infrastructure transformation has arrived, but while cloud is quite rightly the destination, the public sector will not get there without being bolder in taking the first steps and making business applications 'cloud ready' on today's in-house virtualized platforms.

Andy Tait, formerly deputy director, G-Cloud, apps store and data centre consolidation at the Cabinet Office, is head of public sector strategy at VMware

Pic: Tamworth Borough Councilcc2.0

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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