Relocating UK Public Sector to the Cloud

Introduction

A recent guidance paper published by The Commission for Smart Government urges the UK Government to take action towards transforming public services into intrinsically digital services. The Commission advises the government to move all services to the cloud by 2023.

It is clear from the paper that strong leadership and digital understanding amongst decision makers is incredibly important. This is something I noted when writing this post on defining a cloud strategy for public sector organisations. The cloud strategy should set out how technology supports and delivers the overall organisational goals.

If implemented correctly, cloud computing can maximise security and business benefits, automating and streamlining many tasks that are currently manual and slow. Published by the National Cyber Security Centre in November 2020, the Security Benefits of Good Cloud Service whitepaper provides some great pointers that should be incorporated into any cloud migration strategy.

This article discusses how to achieve a common cloud infrastructure, focusing on brownfield environments where local government, and other public sector organisations like the NHS, need to address some of the challenges below.

Common Challenges

  • IT is rarely seen as delivering value to end users, citizens, patients, etc. Often budgets are being reduced but IT are being asked to deliver more, faster. In general, people have higher demands of technology and digital services. Smart phones are now just called phones. Internet-era companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix provide instant access to products, services, and content. Consumer expectations have shifted and the bar is raised for public services.
  • IT staff are under pressure to maintain infrastructure hardware and software. There are more vulnerabilities being exposed, and targeted cyber attacks, than ever before, which means constant security patching and fire-fighting. I’d like to add that it means more systems being architecturally reviewed and improved, but the reality is that most IT teams are still reacting. Running data centres comes with an incredible operational burden.
  • Understanding new technologies well enough to implement them confidently requires time and experience. There are more options than ever for infrastructure; on-prem, in the cloud, at the edge, managed services – Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Furthermore applications are no longer just monolithic or 3-tier, they are becoming containerised, packaged, hybrid, managed – Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). IT teams are expected to maintain and securely join up all these different services whilst repurposing existing investments in supporting software and technical knowledge.
  • Business models are changing at pace, successful organisations are able to react quickly and make use of data to predict and understand their customers and consumers. The emergence of smart cities and smart hospitals can improve public services and enable cost-savings, but needs to be delivered on a strong digital foundation with fast, reliable connectivity. This approach requires joined up systems that share a secure, scalable, and resilient platform. In an ideal world applications and data should be abstracted from the underlying infrastructure in a way that allows them to securely move or be redeployed with the same policies and user experience, regardless of the hardware or provider. Legacy hardware and older systems are mostly disjointed, built in silos, with single points of failure and either non-existent or expensive business continuity models.
  • Innovation typically takes longer when the risk extends beyond monetary value. The ideas of agile development and fail-fast experimentation will naturally be challenged more for public facing services. A 999 operator locating a specialist hospital for an ambulance response unit cannot afford unpredictability or instability because developers and engineers were failing-fast. Neither can a family dependent on a welfare payment system. In environments where services are stable and reliable there is less appetite for change, even when other areas of the organisation are crying out for fast and flexible delivery.

Cloud Migration Strategies

Greater economical and technical benefits can be achieved at scale. Hyperscalers have access to cheaper commodity hardware and renewable energy sources. They are able to invest more in physical security and auditing. Infrastructure operations that are stood up and duplicated thousands of times over across the UK by individual public sector organisations can shift to the utility based model of the cloud, to free up IT staff from fire-fighting, and to be able to focus on delivering quality digital services at speed.

There are 7 R’s widely accepted as cloud migration strategies. These are listed below with a particular focus on relocate. Whilst a brand new startup might go straight into a cloud-native architecture by deploying applications through micro-services, those with existing customers and users have additional considerations. Migrating to the cloud will in most cases use more than one of the options below. Implementing the correct migration strategy for existing environments, alongside new cloud-native services, can reduce the desire for people to use shadow IT. Finding the right balance is about understanding the trade-off between risk, cost, time, and the core organisational drivers mentioned earlier.

  1. Retire. No longer needed – shut it down. Don’t know what it is – shut it down. This is a very real option for infrastructure teams hosting large numbers of Virtual Machines. VM sprawl that has built up over the years could surprise you.
  2. Retain. Leaving on-premises. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. In the most part your existing applications should run in the cloud. A requirement for applications that need to be closer to the action has progressed edge computing. Hardware advancements in areas like Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) enable high performance computing with single socket small footprints, or withstanding higher operating temperatures for locations away from data centre cooling. The key is to maintain that common underlying infrastructure, enabling service deployment in the cloud or at the edge with consistent operations and technologies.
  3. Repurchase. For example changing an on-premises and self-maintained application to a SaaS alternative. This could be the same product in SaaS form, or a competitor. The main technical consideration now becomes connectivity and how the application is accessed. Focus is generally shifted away from the overall architecture of the application itself, and more into transitioning or onboarding users and importing data.
  4. Rehost. Changing a Virtual Machine to run on a different hypervisor. This could be a VMware or Hyper-V VM, converted to run on a cloud providers hypervisor as a particular instance type. This can be relatively straight forward for small numbers of Virtual Machines, but consider other dependencies that will need building out such as networking, security, load balancing, backups, and Disaster Recovery. Although not huge, this potential change in architecture adds more time, complexity, and risk, as the size of the environment grows.
  5. Replatform. Tweaking elements of an application to run as a cloud service. This is often shifting from self-hosted to managed services, such as migrating a database from a VM with an Operating System to a managed database service. Replatform is a common approach for like-for-like infrastructure services like databases and storage.
  6. Refactor. The big bang. Rearchitecting an entire application to run as a cloud-native app. This normally means rewriting source code from scratch using a micro-services architecture or serverless / function based deployment. Infrastructure is deployed and maintained as code and can be stateless and portable. A desirable end state for modern applications.
  7. Relocate. Moves applications and Virtual Machines to a hyperscaler / cloud provider without changing network settings, dependencies, or underlying VM file format and hypervisor. This results in a seamless transition without business disruption.

Why Relocate Virtual Machines?

Relocating Virtual Machines is a great ‘lift-and-shift’ method for moving applications into the cloud. To get the most value out of this migration strategy it can be combined with one or more of the other approaches, generally replatforming some of the larger infrastructure components like database and file storage, or refactoring a certain part of an application; a component that is problematic, one that will provide a commercial or functional benefit, or that improves the end user experience. By auditing the whole infrastructure and applying this blueprint we can strike the right balance between moving to the cloud and protecting existing services.

For existing VMware customers, VMware workloads can be moved to AWS (VMware Cloud on AWS), Azure (Azure VMware Solution), Google Cloud (Google Cloud VMware Engine), Oracle Cloud (Oracle Cloud VMware Solution), as well as IBM Cloud and UK based VMware Cloud Provider Partners without changing the workload format or network settings. This provides the following benefits:

  • Standardised software stack – A Software-Defined Data Centre (SDDC) that can be deployed across commodity hardware in public and private clouds or at the edge, creating a common software-based cloud infrastructure.
  • Complete managed service – The hardware and software stack is managed infrastructure down, removing the operational overhead of patching, maintenance, troubleshooting, and failure remediation. Data centre tasks become automated workflows allowing for on-demand scaling of compute and storage.
  • Operational continuity – Retain skills and investment for managing applications and supporting software (backups, monitoring, security, etc.). Allowing for replacing solutions and application refactoring to take place at a gradual pace, for example when contracts expire, and with a lower risk.
  • Full data control – The Virtual Machine up is managed by the customer; security policies, data location (UK), VM and application configuration, providing the best of both worlds. Cloud security guardrails can be implemented to standardise and enforce policies and prevent insecure configurations. These same policies can extend into native cloud services and across different cloud providers using CloudHealth Secure State.
  • Sensible transformation – Although a longer term switch from capex investment to opex expenditure is required, due to the on-demand subscription based nature of many cloud services, dedicated hardware lease arrangements in solutions like those listed above can potentially be billed as capital costs. This give finance teams time to adapt and change, along with the wider business culture and processes.
  • Hybrid applications – Running applications that make use of native cloud services in conjunction with existing components, such as Virtual Machines and containers, supports a gradual refactoring process and de-risks the overall project.
Azure VMware Solution Basic Architecture
Example application migration and modernisation using Azure VMware Solution

To read more about the information available from the Government Digital Service and other UK sources see Helping Public Sector Organisations Define Cloud Strategy.

If you’re interested in seeing VMware workloads relocated to public cloud check out The Complete Guide to VMware Hybrid Cloud.

Bridging the Gap Between NHS and Public Cloud with VMware Cloud on AWS

Following on from How VMware is Accelerating NHS Cloud Adoption, this post dives into more detail around how the UK National Health Service (NHS) can use VMware Cloud on AWS to bridge the gap between existing investments and Public Cloud.

Part 1: How VMware is Accelerating NHS Cloud Adoption

Part 2: Bridging the Gap Between NHS and Public Cloud with VMware Cloud on AWS

Example NHS VMware Cloud on AWS Use Cases

Modern Applications: The VMware strategy of late has seen a significant shift towards cloud-agnostic software and the integration of cloud-native application development. VMware Cloud on AWS makes use of the full VMware Software-Defined Data Centre (SDDC) stack; enhancing the security of NHS applications with micro-segmentation, and future-proofing application development with Project Pacific (Understand VMware Tanzu, Pacific, and Kubernetes for VMware Administrators).

Data Centre Expansion or Disaster Recovery: VMware Cloud on AWS can reduce NHS data centre footprint on-premise, by expanding new capacity into VMware Cloud on AWS (Deploy and Configure VMware Cloud on AWS), or through the addition of a Disaster Recovery (DR) site accompanied with VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM). Legacy Data Centre Evacuation: VMware Cloud on AWS can replace legacy data centres by facilitating the migration of VMware Virtual Machines (VMs) from end of life hardware to VMware Cloud on AWS (Migrate VMware Virtual Machines to VMware Cloud on AWS). In some cases, dependant on internal finance policies, NHS organisations may be able to capitalise the cost of reserved instances (dedicated physical hosts for 1 or 3 years) in VMware Cloud on AWS using recently introduced IFRS 16 Leases. For more information, review the Capitalising Your Cloud Booklet.

Hosting NHS Patient Data: There are several security principles which should be implemented to host patient or sensitive data, further information is available on the NHS Digital website. Important detail on the shared security model of Public Cloud, and other NHS, VMware, and AWS specific links can be found in the How VMware is Accelerating NHS Cloud Adoption article, as well as VMware Cloud on AWS Security One Stop Shop. A summary excerpt is below:

“In January 2018 NHS Digital released guidance for NHS and social care data: off-shoring and the use of public cloud services, along with a toolset for identifying and assessing data risk classification. The NHS and social care data: off-shoring and the use of public cloud services guidance paper published by NHS Digital states; ‘NHS and social care organisations can safely put health and care data, including non-personal data and confidential patient information, into the public cloud’. The NHS and social care providers may use cloud computing services for NHS data, providing it is hosted in the UK, or European Economic Area (EEA), or in the US where covered by Privacy Shield.”

“Each individual data controller organisation is responsible for implementing and reviewing their own processes around data risk classifications, however to assist NHS Digital have provided a consistent health and social care data risk model. For organisations that do not yet have cloud governance in place NHS Digital have also provided guidance on the health and social care cloud risk framework.

Cloud services introduce a shared security model. NHS organisations can be compliant by implementing a cloud risk framework and proportionate controls outlined by NHS Digital; summarised in the health and social care cloud security one page overview. Security considerations for different

The deployment of any native AWS services should follow best practices outlined in the Security Pillar White Paper of the AWS Well-Architected Framework. VMware Cloud on AWS can make up part of a more comprehensive cloud framework, read more about multi-account and VPC management at Building AWS Environments for VMware Cloud Customers.

Moving to Internet First: As well as the Cloud First strategy outlined in the article referenced above, the UK Government also seeks to make public sector applications, systems, and services accessible over the Internet, with the Internet First strategy. VMware Cloud on AWS can utilise existing on-premise Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) connections, but can also offer the ideal opportunity to move services to Internet-facing. This can be supported with the correct network design, and through making use of native AWS services. There is more information below on how VMware Cloud on AWS complements Internet First, and further reading on the NHS Digital Internet First policy can be found here.

“Health and care services now have an Internet First policy that states new digital services should operate over the internet. Existing services should also be updated to do the same at the earliest opportunity and ideally by March 2021.”

Example Native AWS Service Integrations

In the example architecture below a Stretched Cluster has been deployed across 2 AWS Availability Zones in the London region (eu-west-2), providing VMware Virtual Machine (VM) availability across sites and fault domains. Amazon Direct Connect provides a private link from on-premise networks and should be deployed with resilience, a standby Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypted connection can also be used. To see these features in action review Watch VMware vSphere HA Recover Virtual Machines Across AWS Availability Zones, and Watch a Failover from Direct Connect to Backup VPN for VMware Cloud on AWS. Optional access to the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) is provided by the existing on-premise HSCN connection.

Example_VMC

Focusing on the VMware Cloud on AWS connectivity into native AWS services from the example architecture, we can note the following:

  • Connectivity to native AWS services is provided using Elastic Network Interfaces (ENI), a 25Gbps link into Amazon’s backbone network.
  • Traffic traversing the ENI (ingress and egress) is not chargeable. Any deployed services in AWS are chargeable as usual against the connected AWS account.
  • Using a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) Endpoint NHS organisations can make use of additional services such as Simple Storage Services (S3), which offers a tiered approach to object storage and pricing, or Glacier for data archive.
  • Using the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) router NHS organisations can make use of services such as Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), or managed databases with Relational Database Service (RDS).
  • See AWS Native Services Integration With VMware Cloud on AWS to understand more about VMware Cloud integration with native AWS.

An example scenario could be an on-premise application with a large database which does not have the development resource or funding to refactor for native Public Cloud. It could also be that refactoring this application doesn’t offer any additional business benefit or functionality. In this case, the database could be migrated to RDS, and the front end web/application servers could be migrated ‘as is’ to run on VMware Cloud on AWS. Using the 25Gbps ENI would, in most cases, remove any latency concerns between the application and the database.

It is important to remember that it isn’t only the consumption of traditional infrastructure services that are on offer. Opening up existing workloads to native AWS services drives innovation and modernisation of applications. One example is Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered voice assistant Alexa, which now gives health advice using information from the NHS website. In addition to AI and Machine Learning, AWS has a portfolio of data lakes and analytics services, enabling cost-effective methods for NHS organisations to collect, store, analyse and share data.

Example_Native

In the case of Internet First, VMware Cloud on AWS in conjunction with native AWS, can help scale and consolidate publicly available applications, as documented in VMware Cloud on AWS Reference Architectures. In one such example, the following AWS services are used to facilitate public services hosted in VMware Cloud on AWS:

  • Amazon Route 53 is a highly available and scalable cloud Domain Name System (DNS) web service for name resolution.
  • Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming application traffic across multiple targets. The Application Load Balancer is best suited for load balancing of HTTP and HTTPS traffic operating at the individual request level (Layer 7).
  • AWS Certificate Manager is a service that lets you easily provision, manage, and deploy public and private SSL/TLS certificates for use with AWS services and your internal connected resources.

Additional optional services for performance and security:

  • Amazon CloudFront is a fast Content Delivery Network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers with low latency, high transfer speeds.
  • AWS Shield is a managed Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection service that safeguards applications running on AWS.
  • AWS WAF is a Web Application Firewall that helps protect your web applications from common web exploits that could affect application availability or compromise security.
  • AWS CloudTrail is a service that enables governance, compliance, operational auditing, and risk auditing of your AWS account.
VMC_ELB

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How VMware is Accelerating NHS Cloud Adoption

This post provides an overview of how the UK National Health Service (NHS) can unlock the benefits of cloud computing with VMware Cloud (VMC) on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Part 1: How VMware is Accelerating NHS Cloud Adoption

Part 2: Bridging the Gap Between NHS and Public Cloud with VMware Cloud on AWS

In November 2014 the National Information Board and Department of Health and Social Care published the Personalised Health Care 2020 paper, outlining a framework to support the NHS with making better use of data and technology to improve health and care services. The paper endorsed the use of digital cloud services, backing the UK Government cloud first strategy, introduced in 2013. In January 2018 NHS Digital released guidance for NHS and social care data: off-shoring and the use of public cloud services, along with a toolset for identifying and assessing data risk classification. The NHS and social care data: off-shoring and the use of public cloud services guidance paper published by NHS Digital states; ‘NHS and social care organisations can safely put health and care data, including non-personal data and confidential patient information, into the public cloud’. The NHS and social care providers may use cloud computing services for NHS data, providing it is hosted in the UK, or European Economic Area (EEA), or in the US where covered by Privacy Shield.

The Information Governance (IG) report for Amazon Web Services was updated in 2018, the score approves Amazon Web Services to host and process NHS patient data. VMware Cloud on AWS leverages Amazon’s infrastructure to provide an integrated cloud offering, delivering a highly scaleable and secure solution for NHS trusts and other organisations to migrate workloads and extend their on-premise infrastructure. Steps for understanding the data type, assessing migration risks, and implementing and monitoring data protection controls are also included in the documentation linked above. Each individual data controller organisation is responsible for implementing and reviewing their own processes around data risk classifications, however to assist NHS Digital have provided a consistent health and social care data risk model. For organisations that do not yet have cloud governance in place NHS Digital have also provided guidance on the health and social care cloud risk framework.

Cloud services introduce a shared security model. NHS organisations can be compliant by implementing a cloud risk framework and proportionate controls outlined by NHS Digital; summarised in the health and social care cloud security one page overview. Security considerations for different data classifications are detailed in the health and social care cloud security – good practice guide.

The NHS can implement Secure by Design services with VMware Cloud on AWS

  • NHS organisations must be aware of the shared security model that exists between: VMware; delivering the service, Amazon Web Services (the IaaS provider); delivering the underlying infrastructure, and customers; consuming the service.
  • The NHS organisation is in complete control of the location of its data. VMware do not backup or archive customer data and therefore it is up to the NHS organisation to implement this functionality.
  • Micro-segmentation can be used to protect applications by ring-fencing virtual machines in a zero trust architecture. The risks of legacy operating systems can be mitigated by isolating them from the rest of the network. Micro-segmentation is included for all virtual machines in the default VMware on AWS pricing model.
  • NHS organisations can use Role Based Access Control (RBAC) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to control access to cloud resources. NHS organisations are in control of inbound and outbound firewall rules and can opt to route all traffic internally on private addressing.
  • VMware Cloud on AWS meets a number of security standards such as NIST, ISO, and CIS. Standard Amazon policies for physical security and secure disposal apply. Amazon use self-encrypting disks and manage the keys using Amazon Key Management Service (KMS).
  • VMware implement a number of stringent security controls, for example MFA generated time-based credentials for support staff; all logged and monitored by a Security Operations Centre (SOC), VSAN based encryption, and industry-leading commercial solutions to secure, store, and control access to tokens, secrets, passwords, etc.
  • Full details can be found at: VMware Cloud on AWS Security One Stop Shop

Additional benefits of VMware Cloud on AWS to the wider NHS, are as follows:

The NHS can save time and money by reducing physical or data centre footprint

  • NHS Digital reached an agreement in May 2019 to offer other NHS organisations discounted access to cloud services, such as favourable VMware on AWS pricing, to help accelerate their journey to the cloud. In addition, a favourable pricing structure is in place for reserved instances should organisations commit for 1 or 3 years.
  • Commissioning new space in a data centre, or even just new hardware, can be a lengthy process. With VMware Cloud an entire virtual data centre can be deployed in around 90 minutes. Extending capacity on demand takes as little as 15 minutes.

  • Existing VMware Virtual Machines (VMs) can be migrated to VMware Cloud on AWS, and back if needed, in minutes without the need to refactor applications.
  • NHS technical staff continue to use the same tools and management capabilities that they currently use day to day.
  • In most cases where products such as Monitoring, Backups, and Anti-Virus, are licensed per physical host or per number of VMs organisations can adopt a Bring Your Own Licensing (BYOL) approach.

  • VSAN replication and stretched networks can enhance Disaster Recover (DR) capabilities. The Stretched-Cluster deployment provides vSphere High Availability (HA) across 2 Amazon Availability Zones within a region with a 99.99% availability commitment. Additional DR services such as Site Recovery Manager (SRM) add-ons are also available.
  • In many cases replacing aging servers and storage infrastructure with the latest hardware and flash based VSAN can yield significant application performance benefits.
  • Physical host capacity can be scaled out dynamically and then back in when it is no longer required. NHS organisations can take advantage of easily spinning up environments to test or develop without having to manually install and configure additional hardware.

  • VMware Cloud on AWS has a private link into Amazon’s backbone network of services, ranging from storage, database, and network services, to Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Developers can take advantage of various managed container services, or serverless platforms.
  • Since VMware Cloud resides in Amazon’s data centres hybrid configurations can be securely implemented, for example using Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancer with the back end servers in VMC, or Amazon’s Relational Database Service with the application servers in VMC.
  • Full details can be found at AWS Native Services Integration With VMware Cloud on AWS

  • Hardware maintenance such as firmware updates, failure remediation, and upgrades are all handled by VMware, as are software updates to the hypervisor and infrastructure management layer.
  • NHS technical staff are responsible for securing applications inside the virtual machine, e.g. operating system updates and firewall configuration, ensuring that Amazon Secure by Design best practises are followed.
  • In summary VMware Cloud on AWS enables NHS organisations to seamlessly extend or migrate data centre workloads to the cloud, whilst enhancing security and availability options. In the example shown below an existing VMware vSphere environment has been extended to VMware Cloud on AWS, giving organisations the flexibility to run their workloads on the most suited platform. This approach is secure and easy for operational teams who may not yet have an established cloud governance process in place.

Additional notes on this design: The Internet Gateway for VMC is not in use, all routes are advertised internally and controlled using on-premise firewalls, in other words all ingress and egress traffic is via the on-premise data centres. Access to native AWS services uses the 25Gbps Elastic Network Interfaces (ENI) and is secured using the gateway firewall and Amazon Security Groups.

NHS_SDDC

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