Falkirk Council Takes Flexible Cloud-Appropriate Approach To Deliver Benefits of Scottish Government’s IT Strategy.
The Scottish Government is encouraging Local Government Organizations to adopt a Cloud First strategy, viewing it as “an opportunity to improve public services unparalleled since the mainstream introduction of IT.” However, with a purely physical legacy infrastructure, plus limited expertise and inevitable budgetary constraints, Falkirk Council needed to plan carefully for cloud adoption in order to successfully achieve that goal and do so at least cost with minimum disruption.
|Cloud First with fewer risks||Step-by-step transformation||Matching platform to workload|
|Ability to deliver the benefits of migration to a public cloud platform without the disruption, budgetary uncertainty and other risks.||Where appropriate, some workloads have been migrated to the cloud - Microsoft 365 for example. Others have been virtualised and hosted on-premise using Nutanix.||The on demand scalability and ease of management of Nutanix has empowered Falkirk Council to be more agile and continuously extend and fine tune its IT going forward.
Given what we had or, rather, didn’t have, simply migrating all of our IT to the public cloud would have been too big a leap, both technically and financially. With Nutanix, by contrast, we’ve been able to both modernise our infrastructure and work towards delivering the government’s Cloud First strategy by taking a flexible hybrid approach to maximise the benefits while, at the same time, minimising the potential risks.
Public sector organisations everywhere are being encouraged to take a Cloud First approach to IT, primarily to become more agile but, equally, to drive down operational costs and reduce carbon footprint. Starting points for such wide-scale adoption, however, can differ considerably and for Murat Dilek, Network, Infrastructure and Cybersecurity Team Leader at Falkirk Council in Scotland, the most obvious approach - migration to a hyperscale public cloud platform - was a non-starter.
“With a legacy infrastructure involving some 200 servers, hardly any virtualisation and limited expertise, moving wholesale to the public cloud would have been both expensive and, in practical terms, far too big a leap,” he explains. “Some of our systems simply couldn’t be hosted in the cloud while others would need considerable re-working. That would entail an awful lot of disruption with no guarantees that it would work and no easy way of changing course or fine tuning the approach if it didn’t. It would be a huge and, potentially, very costly risk.”
Having ruled out the obvious, therefore, it was down to Dilek and his term to identify an alternative. An alternative that would enable Falkirk Council to deliver the benefits of the government’s Cloud First strategy but by following a far less disruptive and more flexible path that could be easily modified to cope with developing needs going forward.
One of the first steps was to audit the existing IT estate, identify workloads which could be easily moved to the cloud and prioritise their migration. An approach that led the Council to adopt Microsoft 365 for desktop productivity, leaving the team to concentrate on other mission-critical applications hosted in the Council’s on-premise datacentre. And that, in turn, quickly led to a recommendation to replace those legacy platforms with a new hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) as a more controllable and less disruptive way of working towards that Cloud First strategy.
A number of HCI vendors were considered but, following a successful proof of concept (PoC) trial, the team identified Nutanix with its Enterprise Cloud Platform and AHV hypervisor as the best fit for their needs. A decision fully endorsed by the Council executive, resulting in the project being put out to tender as part of an already planned datacentre relocation.
Inevitable support and hardware dependencies mean that some legacy systems needed to be kept, but around 140 physical servers in total were virtualised and moved to the new Nutanix cluster, a process that took several weeks starting at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, as the VM count rose, the decision was made to add a second cluster hosting Nutanix Files to provide integrated scale-out storage rather than having to migrate and manage multiple file servers. A third cluster was also configured to host DMZ and other security services and Nutanix Flow added to provide additional application security through micro segmentation.
“It was a big project, made even harder by lockdowns during Covid,” comments Dilek, “but so far it has all gone according to plan with no significant disruption to Council services thanks, in no small part, to the scalability and flexibility of the technology enabling us to fine tune and modify our plans as we go.”
One clear example of that flexibility is the ability to quickly expand the scope of the project to include a Citrix virtual desktop deployment not originally part of the migration plans. Delivered as a managed service this was proving problematic to scale, leading the Council to purchase a number of Nutanix Desktop as a Service (DaaS) Frame licences to see if this, too, could be hosted on the new infrastructure. And it could, with rapid and very positive results.
“In little over 2 hours we had our first trial users up and running quite demanding desktop applications using Nutanix DaaS which, given we’re far from VDI experts, was remarkable,” recalls Dilek. “It was a real eye opener and we’ve since moved most of the remaining desktops to Nutanix in the new datacentre as well as others to the same Nutanix DaaS hosted on Azure as yet another step towards meeting our long term Cloud First commitment.”
Another example is the ability to modernise and enhance the Council’s backup and disaster recovery strategy as part of the migration to the Nutanix technology.
“As we were taking backups and migrating all those physical servers to Nutanix it became clear that our existing disk and tape based backup was no longer fit for purpose,” explains Dilek. “ By switching to Nutanix Mine, however, we’ve been able to do away with tape altogether, using Veeam to accelerate and automate local backup processes and Wasabi Cloud to provide secure DR protection against ransomware and other emerging threats. Once again, it was all very straightforward and another step towards the cloud as part of our long term digital transformation process.”
Following the successful migration of those core legacy systems to the new datacentre, Dilek is looking to press ahead and do the same for some 400 servers used to provide IT services to Council run schools. This, he believes, will both enhance the performance and availability of those services and deliver even greater operational benefits, well beyond the estimated £40K/year saved on power as a result of the first phase of the project.
With an eye always on that government Cloud First strategy, he is also keen to trial Nutanix Cloud Clusters (NC2) which enables the Nutanix Cloud software stack and AHV hypervisor to be hosted in the public cloud.
“We’ve already volunteered to trial Nutanix Clusters, as a way of providing additional DR capabilities for our on-premise datacentre,” he says. “But long term it offers so much more, including the ability to move everything to the cloud and become a fully Cloud First Council.”