DWP completes migration to hybrid cloud

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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has completed the migration of its applications to a hybrid cloud set-up as part of a major insourcing exercise.

The completion of the project follows a number of initiatives that started two years ago with the goal of moving most of the DWP’s hosted applications from a managed service in third-party datacentre space to services that the department built out through the Crown Commercial Service framework.

Mike Farrington, head of hybrid cloud services at DWP Digital, said the department installed cabling and racking, network equipment, firewalls and servers over a 18-month period. This enabled the DWP to move applications as they were into the new datacentres using the same configurations and IP addresses.

“That was important because it meant we could do things in a couple of years, whereas if you were to re-platform all those applications, it would have probably taken a decade,” he said.

With Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, with Azure, as key suppliers, the hybrid approach was crucial to enable a successful transition, said Farrington, adding that the migration also included a shift to software as a service with Office 365, Teams and ServiceNow.

“Our hybrid approach has also enabled us to host several legacy systems in an on-premise environment in preparation for replacement as cloud-native services, allowing us to take control of our IT estate,” he argued.

According to Farrington, the DWP still has more to do to transform its application estate, with “an awful lot of work” under way around the shift to Microsoft Azure and to Office 365. “Our file service has been moved out from the initial office storage to the datacentres – and I’m pleased to say we migrated the final ones into Microsoft Azure about eight weeks ago,” he said.

“We’re moving all these services that have been historically hosted by providers to commodity cloud and to software services. By taking control of the estate and doing things ourselves, we’re moving to a way of working that’s far more effective from a performance point of view and far more effective on cost.”

Farrington said the last big application that is still outsourced to a provider is the Next Generation Contact Centre, the largest contact centre network operating in the UK and supporting over 28,000 agents in more than 135 locations countrywide. The service, which is built on a Genesys platform, was receiving over two million calls a day at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been working closely with colleagues in the share channels experience team to understand how we’re going to take back control and bring it back in-house over the next 12 months,” he said.

The move to the hybrid cloud setup is described as a significant change in the way the DWP has dealt with its IT services provision and puts an end to more than 25 years of outsourcing, usually under large multi-year contracts. According to Farrington, the change is the result of departmental strategy changes and the introduction of strategic direction from the Government Digital Service, which saw the replacement of monolithic deals with smaller contracts and insourcing.

“As the UK’s largest government department with many legacy systems to consider and a large number of suppliers involved, it’s taken time and dedication to get to the point now where we’re about to switch off the last service in our managed datacentre services,” he said.

Cloud computing also played a key role in the DWP’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and the massive spike in financial support claims. According to a report that the department released in September 2020, payments capacity for Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit saw a threefold increase, allowing the department to carry out up to 180,000 one-off or repeat payments daily.

“Being fully hosted in the public cloud meant that we were easily able to scale up Universal Credit to meet the unprecedented demand,” said Farrington. “We’ve also had to scale up supporting systems for that, including data and analytics and data lakes, which are in hyper-converged infrastructure on-premise, and fairly easy to upscale.”

He added that the cloud also enabled a rapid increase in the department’s VPN capacity to support home working, with about 66,000 DWP staff currently working remotely.

“We’re a good way through our cloud journey in DWP and now at a point where we’ve taken back control of almost everything,” said Farrington. “Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will make a big push towards fine-tuning what we’ve got. It’s an exciting time and a journey I’m proud to be a part of.”

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