“The cloud – isn’t that just servers in someone else’s data centre?” A sensible question and, in reality, it’s exactly that. Instead of locating your server infrastructure in your offices, you locate it in someone else’s.
Instead of your team monitoring, managing, cooling, powering and upgrading the servers, you’re paying someone else to do so, allowing you to benefit from their economies of size, scale up (or down) the resources you need and free your team to support your organisation in other areas.
While some housing providers do continue to invest in on-premise hardware, many are looking to leverage the cloud. However, the question we’re asked most often is, “how can we use the cloud to give us the greatest benefit?”
You’re probably already on the journey…
Many customers are already using Microsoft cloud services such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Teams. These are all SaaS solutions and if you weren’t using them at the start of 2020, the chances are you’re using Teams now because it has allowed millions of people to communicate and collaborate across the world. But what about using the cloud to replace on-premise hardware? Ask yourself:
- Do you need an on-premise data centre at your head office?
- Do you want an on-premise data centre?
- Do you even want or need a head office?
Moving further to the cloud
The cloud delivers many benefits to the way we work, but that’s different when it comes to infrastructure, right? In truth, yes and no. Yes, there are different benefits, but no, these benefits can still be great and many of the same core concepts apply.
In the same way the modern workplace gives you the ability to work more flexibly, productively and collaborate more innovatively, the cloud gives your data centre the ability to do the same.
It enables you to do certain things that were, while not impossible, difficult to do on-premise. One great example of this is IoT devices or sensors that give the ability to deliver a better experience for tenants while also making cost savings for you by pre-emptively and proactively undertaking repairs and maintenance.
These two elements combined are vital. For instance, take the proactive maintenance element. Boiler repairs are a huge cost, but by being able to monitor the boilers’ components, measure their wear and tear, and predict when parts might need replacing, you can drastically reduce the costs of maintaining them. Also, on a human level, losing your boiler in the middle of winter is hugely inconvenient and sometimes dangerous, especially for older residents.
Fire systems, lift breakdowns and security systems – these are all areas to which IoT can bring benefits. Having a flexible and well-architected data platform sitting behind these solutions also helps to drive wider insights and innovations, enabling a more data-driven culture to develop to drive efficiency savings, allowing you to use your resources where they have the biggest impact.
Phoenix work extensively on data, IoT and AI in the housing sector and our relationship with Microsoft can help support you while doing so in a cost-effective, scalable and agile manner.
Where to start?
We see many organisations start by saying, “we want to move all our infrastructure to the cloud.” Our question to them is always, “why?”
We don’t believe that IT is a conversation around just technology anymore because technology can (within reason) do whatever you want it to. It’s now a conversation around what do you want to achieve because the cloud may not be right for every workload or use case. We start with the ‘why?’:
- Why do you want to free up data centre space?
- Why do you want to help free up your team?
- Why do you want to become more data-driven or agile in your service delivery?
Once you have understood the ‘why’, it’s important to then think about the ‘how’. How do you make the move efficiently, securely and with the least disruption? You need to understand what your future requirements are and develop a view of your current environment along with any associated interdependencies between systems and how often/much these systems or applications are used.
This enables you to analyse this data and then design both an overarching architecture and cloud migration roadmap that meets your requirements. It also lets you develop a full TCO calculation for cloud services, from not only a pay-as-you-go perspective but also using the likes of reserved instances, hybrid use benefits and potentially some remaining on-premise hardware.
All of this helps to develop the business case for migrating to the cloud, but also ensures that when the migration is undertaken, it’s done in a best-practice manner and leads to the highest possible savings; for some housing providers, there has been a 50 per cent saving in areas of IT expenditure by moving to the cloud.
Before you begin the migration, it’s critical to make sure you have built a secure and scalable foundation, referred to as an Azure Landing Zone. The Azure Landing Zone is a cornerstone of your cloud adoption framework, making sure that identity, security, governance and networking are all in place to support and manage the migrated infrastructure.
This is vital because trying to retrofit the framework can be more difficult, costly and time consuming. Setting the foundations at the beginning of an Azure implementation to build in the governance and security to all services removes these worries.
It’s then important to migrate the workloads as effectively as possible, potentially via an initial PoC, then expanding, via a series of wave groups or sprints, to ensure that the solution is adding value at each step. This process also allows the re-platforming of some of the applications into more SaaS- or PaaS-based offerings for further cost savings and benefits.
Ongoing management and innovation
We understand that support, management and optimisation are all relatively new skills for the housing sector when it comes to Azure. As a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP, Phoenix have demonstrated our skills, experience and commitment to Azure best practice and optimisation. We work as an extension of your teams, empowering you to focus on delivering new and innovative services to improve the provision to tenants and deliver immense value to you and your customers.
As the housing sector has accelerated cloud migrations in the past year, we’re happy to talk through our experiences. Please feel free to contact me on 01904 562 200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oliver Barrett is the business development manager for housing at Phoenix Software.