Forestry and Land Scotland Shifts Sustainability Efforts into Hyperdrive with Move to Cloud

One year after using Nutanix NC2 to migrate from older IT infrastructure to the public cloud, the trailblazing government agency is finding new efficiencies and exploring ways to preserve Scotland’s storied forests using AI and automation.

By Jason Johnson

By Jason Johnson June 18, 2024

There are reams of Scottish expressions like: In Scotland, they measure distance in drams. But when asked if he was a dram enthusiast, Nick Mahlitz immediately caught the irony of barking up the wrong tree.

“I’m quite embarrassed now because I'm a Scotsman, a full-blooded Scotsman,” he told The Forecast. “But guess what I don’t do. I don't drink scotch,” he said lyrically, punctuated with a hearty chuckle before diving into a deeper truth. “I can even add that my father is an engineer who worked in the whisky industry all of his working life. So I had the potential to tap into many-a-scotch, but I've never taken that opportunity.” 

He may not drink scotch, but he’s a proud owner and occasional wearer of a kilt and sporran. While it’s safe to say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, the young Mahlitz branched out from his father’s career path and forged his own way. Today he’s a senior digital infrastructure manager at Forestry and Land Scotland, roughly the Scottish equivalent of the U.S. National Forestry System. The data center operations he and his team manage power autonomous plant nurseries, reforestation and new trail efforts, and drone programs that keep tabs on wildlife and temperate rainforests. His vibrant, infectious positivity lights up a room as he explains why the future is bright for his homeland.

“The 1,400 forestry people out there in the field, whether they're cutting down a tree, killing a deer, or planting seeds,” as he put it, “are making sure Scotland’s natural resources sustain and thrive. We’ve seen great progress in the past year – like new trails, more trees planted – that are allowing more people to really enjoy all the splendor that Scotland has to offer.” 


Forestry and Land Scotland Trailblazes Private-Public Shift to Cloud

Mahlitz and his IT team are quickly moving the Forestry and Land Scotland into the future using data and cloud technologies to meet sustainability goals and protect more than 1.5 million acres of national forests contained by Scotland’s nearly 12,000 kilometers of subarctic coastline. As The Forecast reported previously, last year, the agency faced a major mandate to eliminate its aging on-premises data center and move IT operations to the public cloud. This set in motion a furious sprint to move 25 years' worth of data and applications to a public cloud environment, a goal that Mahlitz’s team recently reached. 

Nutanix NC2 Made Migration to Public Cloud Easier Than Expected

Mahlitz’s team needed to move an entire on-premise data center, including 300 applications and 30 terabytes of data. They turned to Nutanix Cloud Clusters (NC2), allowing them to replicate their on-premise data center and run it inside Microsoft Azure public cloud. This allowed them to migrate production workloads without refactoring applications in order to run them in the public cloud.


Microsoft-Nutanix Partnership Breaks Hybrid Cloud Barriers

Mahlitz described it as a trailblazing endeavor, especially for the public sector, which is known for being benignly risk-averse.

“We are six months live with our whole data center in the cloud served by Nutanix,” he said. “We no longer have on-prem environment to administer or manage. That is quite a unique position that we find ourselves in,” he said.


The True Hybrid Cloud Benefit: Bridging the Public and Private Cloud Gap

Editor’s note: Learn how Nutanix’s NC2 can help reduce the operational complexity of hybrid multiclouds for a simpler, faster and more cost-effective way to extend, burst and migrate apps and data.

While migrating from on-prem to the public cloud can be a grind, they needed to move fast. Achieving total cloud integration by 2024 was an important milestone in the agency’s five-year IT transformation roadmap, which would position them to tap into cloud-based efficiencies and reign in their data. 

“The transition to the cloud using Nutanix’s platform was an experience that made our journey so much simpler,” he said. 

“It bought us the time we needed to modernize and transform our solutions into a next-gen approach. We could not be more delighted with the results.”

Mahlitzt saw the shift to public cloud reaping rewards almost immediately. It allowed the agency to advance business directives, including heightening security measures with a zero trust model, while lowering its carbon footprint — an objective laid out in the government agency’s charter. 

“It’s really heartening to see that moving to the cloud is helping us reach the sustainability and net zero targets that we have as an organization,” he said. 

Growth Mindset Drives Digital Transformation

Forestry and Land Scotland’s headquarters are flanked on all sides by rugged history. A vast number of stone castles, cathedrals, and fortress ruins, constructed centuries ago by clans of the Highlands, can be found nearby, dotting the sheer cliffs above the roaring North Sea.

In recent years, the government agency has become more proactive, daring, and vigorous about facing threats and the real impact of climate change. Now, having completed the first leg of a major IT operational overhaul, Mahlitz credits his organization with having the confidence to try a new approach.


Do Forests Really Need Technology?

“I'm so pleased that the non-digital people in our organization, which is, by far, the majority of them,” he said. “They have the same appetite and the same desire for transformation.”

Mahlitz says that taking on the challenge to modernize older infrastructure has reinvigorated him at the midpoint of his career. 

“We did something new and exciting. It’s refreshing to still be able to do novel new things twenty years in,” he said. 

Likewise, the excitement around digital transformation has brought out the best in his peers. 

“Working in an agile manner. Having a growth mindset. Embracing technology. All the attitudes that permeate behind a good digital team. We've got that,” he said.

Their initial successes using NC2 to transform their data center have galvanized the entire organization, giving them the drive to keep innovating. This innovative spirit continues to seep outward.

“I don’t know if it’s just being Scottish, but we Scots are a passionate people,” he said. “As I meet other IT teams in other government areas, they have a similar aspiration and enthusiasm for understanding technology. So, yeah, it's just part and parcel of who we are.” 

Plotting a Path to a Sustainable Future

Working at an agency that manages 1.5 million acres of national forests has its perks. IT staff are encouraged to go on excursions with a forester. They can visit one of the many peat bogs which the agency is restoring. They can go see the store of venison in the chiller. They can plant a tree or fell one from the cabin of a harvester, heavy vehicles with crane-like claws equipped with massive chainsaws. 


Building Scalable, Sustainable Data Centers

Despite the allure of fresh air and fragrant pine needles, Mahlitz’s enthusiasm for cloud innovation keeps him glued to the office.

“I need to get out more and see the organization as it is out in the field,” he said. “I don't do that often enough. I don't always want to be the person in the basement managing it. It's also good to get out and enjoy the forest.”

Lately, he and senior management have been sorting through the trove of data, that the shift to cloud computing has afforded them. By consolidating their IT operations on public cloud infrastructure, they have gained greater visibility and insight into how their organization functions. 

“One thing we’re actively working on is understanding our data better. How much data do we have? And how can it help us make more informed decisions for our net zero future, for sustainability, and for generating revenue?” he said. 

Some ideas that they are exploring include capturing dendrological data from automated harvesters to promote biodiversity, and building a virtual representation of woodlands so that foresters can visualize how decisions made today will impact the forest fifty years in the future. 

“We're at the start of our journey and beginning to realize what AI and automation can do for our organization,” he said. 

The commitment to technology and cloud innovation has unlocked some very intriguing possibilities. 

Jason Johnson is a contributing writer. He is a longtime content and copywriter for tech and tech-adjacent businesses. Find him on Linkedin.

Ken Kaplan and Jason Lopez contributed to this story. 

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