Public sector organisations are increasingly making the jump to public cloud. But while this is a positive step in their journey towards modernising services, it also brings its challenges. Migration to the public cloud is by no means a new phenomenon, but the hype cycle has reached fever pitch, and organisations should be mindful not to be swept away by the hype. What many organisations are now learning is that public cloud services are typically extremely costly and can place added pressure on already cash-strapped organisations.

These high, and often, unexpected costs are borne from the inflexible solutions that public cloud providers offer. In many cases, the lack of flexibility in these public cloud models means public sector organisation are being tied into lengthy contracts that are difficult to get out of, and that simply do not meet the real needs of the business.

In reality, public sector organisation at the start of their cloud journey need three things from their cloud offering: security, reliability, and capacity. These three fundamentals should form the basis of an organisation’s cloud strategy and should see them look beyond public cloud. Indeed, for many organisations a private cloud strategy could meet their current and future cloud needs.

What’s in a cloud?

The benefits of adopting a “cloud-first” approach are clear. Public sector organisations can prioritise real business transformation through greater access to critical business applications that can be hosted in the cloud, without the need for disruptive and costly on-premise hardware upgrades. Additionally, cloud offers scalability and increased reliability through on-demand resources, as well as the ability to dial up security as and when needed. Cloud also facilitates greater mobility, this will be essential when rolling out new applications and services, such as remote healthcare practices or e-learning services.

What is critical however is understanding which of the aforementioned benefits, and specifically how many, are included in public cloud offerings. There is a big debate around the price of public cloud. In the initial stages of onboarding customers, public cloud providers have notoriously offered attractive prices for their services, but further down the line these offers have presented hidden costs.

The challenge for most organisations is that they do not have a complete view of what they are paying for and where resources are allocated in a public cloud scenario. The lack of flexibility in these cloud models means organisations often unknowingly pay for resources they don’t need. For publicly funded organisations, this of course creates challenges whereby the very solution chosen to help drive down costs, is in fact having the opposite effect.

A private solution for public service success

For a long time, the assumption was that public cloud is a cheaper alternative than private. Why? Because infrastructure costs are shouldered by the public cloud providers who operate mammoth data centres with vast quantities of storage and compute capabilities. However, in recent years the premise that public is cheaper than private has been found to be largely false.

Private is now widely considered to be more cost effective in the long run, as storage and compute power can be added or removed, or scaled up or down in accordance to the needs of individual organisations. But cost reduction is not the primary driving force behind private cloud adoption.

One aspect of private cloud that has perhaps deterred public sector organisations in the past is the responsibility of ongoing maintenance. This can be easily solved, however, by partnering with the right provider to manage the private cloud on behalf of an organisation. In this instance the partner provides support, maintenance and upgrades, and shifts management responsibilities away from the customer.

Security is another area where private cloud has the potential to shine in the public sector, as it is inherently more secure than public cloud. Public sector organisations hold a duty of care and are responsible for the processing and protection of large quantities of sensitive data belonging to the communities they support. In a private cloud environment, the customer controls the physical servers and access to these, and is able to mitigate risk by setting parameters on what data can be accessed, when and by whom.

Firewalls can also be set up based on specific organisational requirements. What’s more, the external risk of cyber-attacks is also diminished with private cloud, meaning organisations are less likely to suffer from data breaches or leaks. In addition, this minimised risk gives organisations more bandwidth to prepare for such cyber-attacks, and with the NCSC announcing that it wants organisations to be more proactive rather than reactive when responding to cyber threats, switching to a private cloud may go some way in helping to achieve this.

One final area where private cloud holds weight is in the agility of the providers. Public cloud solutions are run by a handful of big industry players that cannot commit the same level of customer service offered by small or medium providers. In choosing to go private, public sector organisations will have more control to adapt their cloud solution, controlling when and how systems connect to it and how teams interact with the solution. This added agility and adaptability has been a clear growing requirement of public services as they look to streamline efficiencies.

While the benefits of cloud will be hugely influential in delivering the transformation that public services are crying out for, public sector organisations must assess their options. While public cloud is a popular option, it’s not necessarily the right one. If public sector organisations want to ensure their cloud solution can adapt to their needs and grow with them, they must consider a more bespoke and tailored offering. That offering is a managed private cloud service.